Rhino Records 78063
It seems to be Bob Weir's fate to exist in the shadow of Jerry Garcia.
He's survived nearly four decades of this. And rather than be a self-esteem
deflated rock casualty, he moves forward and thrives. With that in mind, it seems appropriate that a compilation of his work,
titled Weir Here: The Best of Bob Weir, comes out around the same time as the much anticipated six-CD box set compiling Garcia's solo output. While both releases give Grateful Dead fans a reason to dig deep in their
wallets for whatever cash hasn't been used towards tickets for the Dead's
Wave That Flag summer tour, there's also a major difference between the two.
The two-disc Weir release acts not only as a primer to his
work outside the Grateful Dead but also as a method of pumping up his
contribution to that band (portions of disc one and all but one track of the live disc two). Opening the album are five numbers including "Cassidy" and "Playing in the Band" from the album Ace. Members of the Dead played on these songs, which would become staples in the group’s live sets.
A couple songs from Kingfish are represented. Why not more? Instead,
Feel Like a Stranger from the Dead’s Go To Heaven is included. The Grateful Dead associations become even odder since none of the artwork contains a photo with any of Weir’s fellow bandmates. Surprisingly, the trio of tunes from 1978’s Heaven Help the Fool
correlate well with his current work in RatDog. So, where are the demos, the alternate takes, the unreleased material, more of a taste than a tease of a Weir's solo career?
If the producers of Weir Here wanted to put a second disc of live
material, then this would have worked better as a three-CD set with other tracks from Weir's solo releases and Weir and Rob Wasserman live dates. Particularly illuminating would have been a series of live RatDog numbers dating from its intimate bluesy format through to its latest incarnation. In that way, it would have provided a fuller picture of the artist as a creative wanderer. The interview Dennis McNally conducts with Weir for the liner notes
offers more insight than the album as a whole. That's too bad. Maybe Rhino Records can put together a more satisfying retrospective, just as it has done with the Garcia box set.
This reintroduction to Jerry Garcia's solo work – four albums under his
name and one as Jerry Garcia Band – offers a treasure for those who purchased the goods on vinyl or the original CD pressings. These revamped recordings shine like the first sunny day after a long
hard winter. I tested my copy of Run with the Roses with the new version and there’s a world of difference. The volume on the remixed and remastered HDCD disc brings the instruments up in order to add stronger support.
At times, the clarity is amazing. In particular, I recall some of the
bonus material on Garcia. You can hear Bill Kreutzmann's tapping of drumstick to cymbal or drumhead as if you're sitting next to him in the studio. Much thanks goes to the usual suspects when it comes to Grateful
Dead-related projects, David Gans and Blair Jackson who co-produced the box set. Also working on this were GD (extended) family members, Tom Flye who engineered during the mixing phase and Joe Gastwirt who did the mastering. (Gastwirt also mastered the Weir release.) Rhino's James Austin, a self-described Deadhead, also co-produced the release after helping to convince the Garcia estate that it should choose the same label that updated the Dead's Warner Brothers catalogue for the 21st century.
While the extensive liner notes that includes contributions from Robert
Hunter, Blair Jackson, McNally and others offer insight to these sessions, this
box set works as more than a sentimental trip down memory lane. It chronicles the breadth of Garcia's work away from the Grateful Dead. Fans have been accustomed to the relaxed atmosphere during the acoustic sessions with David Grisman. Much of All Good Things displays Garcia’s delight at exploring and adapting to new musical avenues.
Now, that doesn't mean everything is completely perfect. I'm hoping that
the warning that my advance discs are a "work CD-R" would explain the bass being so high up in the mix during "Deal." Possibly the producers felt that the idea of Garcia going off on the instrument should not be hidden too deep in the mix. It does sound as if he's having an incredibly good time writing, recording and playing all the instruments other than drums on his debut solo release, Garcia.. The first half of that album sounds like a natural extension from the Dead’s one-two critical and commercial punch of Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty. More than half of its 10 tracks became a major part of the Grateful Dead’s mammoth canon of material (i.e. "Bird Song," "Sugaree," "The Wheel").
The second half of Garcia goes into an experimental mode, and that's
where the sound quality really enhances the material. The much-lauded guitarist plays piano on much of this, showing the influence of 20th century classical, freeform jazz, old time horror scores and the use of tape loops.
The eight bonus tracks, mostly alternate takes, are used to enlighten
listeners to the process.
Just as he did throughout his life, Garcia's associations with new
musicians tended to influence his direction. His close relationship with
bassist/producer John Kahn bloomed during this recording. Leaving Kahn to oversee the album and choose its cover tunes, Garcia (Compliments) reflects a mastery of interpretive powers as well as the variety of genres that infuse Garcia’s work — from Tin Pan Alley to New Orleans funk, R&B and rock. It’s not filled with startling revelations, just a helluva good time.
Reflections supplies more fare for Dead live shows ("Might As Well"
"They Love Each Other"), which makes sense since the band members played on half of it during the Blues For Allah sessions. There’s even an unreleased track, "Orpheus" that sounds like an extended live jam. Overall, the album works as an extension of the first two releases, with keyboardist Nicky Hopkins supplying some fine work.
Credited to the Jerry Garcia Band, "Cats Under the Stars" reflects the
hours onstage by that set of personnel and the connections made at those times. At this point, the disc's success isn't just measured in how the music's been resurrected but also in the discovery of fully-fleshed out and worthwhile
bonus tracks. In this case, "Don't Let Go" and "The Way You Do the Things You Do" are among the seven served here.
To some degree, Run For the Roses suffers next to its predecessors for two reasons. Like "Cats Under the Stars," it's production doesn't hold out so well more than a decade later. With guitar tones, synth sounds and even
arrangements that give a nod to that time period, Run still feels a little crusty despite the work Gans, Jackson and company have done.
I may not be returning to that disc as much as I will the others ones for
its original material, but it does contain half a dozen sparkling bonus
tracks including covers of Bob Dylan's "Tangled Up in Blue" and "Simple Twist of Fate" and the Beatles "Dear Prudence."
The sixth disc, Outtakes, Jams & Alternates, offers a wealth of
valuable material. It acts like an unearthed Garcia release, a microcosm of the
previous five discs — acoustic numbers, cover tunes and originals and even an
audio sneak peak of the relaxed pace of some of the sessions. The quality of All Good Things causes it to end on a satisfactory note,
whereas Weir Here leaves me with the feeling of unfinished business.