Album Reviews

Various Artists

Dear Jerry - Celebrating The Music of Jerry Garcia

Artist:     Various Artists

Album:     Dear Jerry

Label:     Rounder

Release Date:     10/14/2016


For Grateful Dead fans, the show’s never quite over. Even when lead guitarist Jerry Garcia died 21 years ago, the band kept on truckin’ in various configurations. Rounder Record’s new CD/DVD release, Dear Jerry, is a love letter to the brilliant guitarist, reluctant leader, and always witty Garcia. Recorded live at Merriweather Post Pavilion, a regular touring stop for the Dead, on May 14th, 2015, this tribute concert captures all the jammy goodness of a Dead show, with a wider variety of friends and supporting acts.

Who better to kick it all off than Phil Lesh & Communion? Surrounding himself with a heavily bearded group of talented young players, Lesh leads the Communion on “The Wheel/Uncle John’s Band.” Together, they create a sonic tapestry as tightly woven as the kaleidoscopic oriental rugs upon which they stand, trading seemingly effortless solos inspired by the greatness that came before, injected with a shot of youth. Most remarkable are the ethereal, chiming harmonies which at times almost sound Gregorian in their perfection. At 76, Lesh looks great and gives a stunning performance.

Sometimes Jerry Garcia Band collaborator and eternally inspiring Allen Toussaint brings NOLA mojo and piano driven elegance with “Get Out My Life Woman.” Given that we lost Toussaint in November, 2015, it’s a treat to see him in such fine form, having a blast with the excellent house band, who recognize they are in the presence of a true master.

Mandolin maestro David Grisman, well known for his work on American Beauty, sheds light on Garcia’s bluegrass roots with “Shady Grove.” Peter Frampton gives perhaps the most rocking performance of the show with “Road Runner,” strutting the stage while shredding on guitar. We feel like he does. Buddy Miller jazzes things up with “Deal,” showing a mastery of Jerry’s meandering style.

Garcia’s influence spans space and time. Carefully observant fans know that he is listed as “Musical and Spiritual Advisor” on Jefferson Airplane’s groundbreaking album Surrealistic Pillow, and so it is fitting that Jorma Kaukonen appears to play a rollicking version of “Sugaree.”

Garcia’s mid to late ‘70s work was often imbued with Caribbean funkiness, and explains the presence of the great Jimmy Cliff performing his own hit “The Harder They Come,” and also shows much of what influenced “Fire On The Mountain.” Here Cliff is joined by Bob Weir, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzman.

Los Lobos are old friends, and along with Bob Weir do an excellent version of “Bertha,” David Hidalgo’s vocal and lead guitar style perfectly suited for the job, but also different enough to render it fresh. Moe’s “Loser” is a straight ahead cover for the faithful, while clean cut O.A.R. bring an almost punk-rock energy to “St. Stephen,” which it always had.

At times Weir looks a bit lost onstage, but accompanies Grace Potter beautifully on her passionate version of the beloved “Friend Of The Devil.” The Disco Biscuits, Trampled By Turtles, Yonder Mountain String Band, Eric Church and Widespread Panic round out the show with excellent and energetic performances. All come together as one to close out the evening with “Ripple.”

For those who wish they were there, the DVD is the next best thing. Extras include brief bites of the bands saying what they would if they could speak directly to Jerry. Perhaps Los Lobos say it best, “We miss you Jerry. Come back!” Highly recommended!

-Mike Cobb


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