If not for the fact that Ace was, and is again, a Bob Weir solo album, it could qualify as one of the better Grateful Dead records of all time. Bobby “Ace” Weir squarely and rightfully is at the center of each of the eight songs, for sure; from his opening shout on “Greatest Story Ever Told” right through to the final fleeting notes of the gorgeous “Cassidy,” it’s Weir’s confident leadership and songwriting that leaves its unmistakable imprint on these superb tracks. Yet, without even looking at the credits, the dug-in grooves carved out by his assembled backing band could have been made only, and as they indeed were, by his Dead mates, circa 1972.
This 50th anniversary, two-disc collection should do a lot to resurrect and reaffirm Ace and its proper place on the mantle of greatness in the Grateful discography and beyond. First, there is the tracklist: a veritable full-house of what were and/or would become staples of the Dead’s repertoire: “Black-Throated Wind,” “Playing in the Band,” “Looks Like Rain,” “Mexicali Blues,” and “One More Saturday Night,” filling in between the aforementioned first and last numbers. And while “Walk in the Sunshine” never quite achieved its shining moment, its place here is not without warming charm.
As for that backing band- Jerry Garcia (also aiding on the original album’s mix), Phil Lesh, Bill “Fairplay” Kreutzmann, Keith Godchaux and (for good measure, on “chick vocals”) Donna Godchaux- it’s essentially the classic-era lineup of the Grateful Dead at the leading edge of its peak artistic ‘70s output. Not many recipes for a debut solo album start out with better ingredients.
The anniversary edition has a new mix- by Derek Featherstone, overseen by Weir- and it, too is a triumphant effort. With a balance and a care that reveals how sublimely interwoven, and symbiotically executed, these songs were five decades back, it’s a euphoric listening experience. Fear not, there are no choices on the update that run astray of the original; more like a polish that revives the shine and glory of what was always there.
The second disc of the deluxe edition is devoted to an April 2022 live appearance in New York City by Bobby, his Wolf Bros, extended Wolfpack, and a few special guests; Tyler Childers churning vocal lighting up “Greatest Story Ever Told;” Brittney Spencer cooling off “Walk in the Sunshine” and “Looks Like Rain.” As the latest incarnations of Ace playing Ace, (“this is in order, now”) they feel at once properly representative and humbly reflective. And none are more affecting and lasting from this set as the final “Cassidy,” with the saxophone of Sheldon Brown and violin of Mads Tolling creating a hauntingly beautiful new landscape to survey; Weir and his wolves on an ever-evolving walkabout.