In a world where one more Grateful Dead-covers project seems like twice-baked overkill, here comes Matt Rae with one that shouldn’t be missed.

Crazy Fingers finds the guitarist offering up nine instrumentals that focus heavily on the 1970s-era Robert Hunter/Jerry Garcia songbook with the traditional “Cold Rain and Snow,” Phil Lesh‘s psychedelic C&W oddball “Pride of Cucamonga” and Merle Haggard’s “Sing Me Back Home,” closing the record on an appropriately elegiac note, tossed in to widen the scope.

Each track features multiple guitar parts, one playing the lyric melody, others handling lead and rhythm with alternatively jazzy and twangy licks. These six-string dances give such numbers as “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo” deep, resonant layers that beg to be peeled away over many listens; elsewhere, Rae utilizes twin leads on “Terrapin Station” and employs slide and pedal-steel on “To Lay Me Down” in a nod to Garcia’s original solo recording. 

“Bird Song,” meanwhile, includes a trumpet solo, a fantastic and isolated surprise on what is otherwise strictly a guitar album.

At just 47 minutes, Crazy Fingers is devoid of exploratory jamming. And that’s the LP’s strength. Rae and his band focus squarely on the songs and in the process strike a perfect balance between strict fidelity and, with the words MIA, reinterpretation to create the most-unlikely musical event of 2019 – a Grateful Dead tribute album that is not only not trite, but is essential listening for Heads and guitar aficionados alike.