From the Vaults

The Grateful Dead, it turns out, were pretty savvy in encouraging their sound engineers (and audiences) to tape their shows. The informal network of tape-trading that emerged helped fuel the obsessive devotion to the improvising band who never played the same set twice. And the apparently cavernous vault of the group's own tapes has led to a series of marathon concert albums that have come out at a frenetic pace, especially in recent years, and may continue for years to come.Dead Bassman Phil Lesh has broken the trend of packaging one or a few consecutive shows with Fallout From the Phil Zone (Grateful Dead/Arista), which has 11 tracks spanning 1967 to 1995 -- almost the entire life of the band. He's come up with some real finds in the archives, including rare versions of "Easy Wind" (a confident, serious blues groove with dual lead guitars from Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir), "New Speeding Boogie" (with Weir and an unnamed guest -- maybe New Rider David Nelson -- on acoustics), "Mason's Children" (ragged, but better than the Dick Picks 4 version), Otis Redding's "Hard to Handle" (duo leads again with a terrific Garcia solo), Bob Dylan's "Visions of Johanna" (an unusually strong 1995 vocal by Garcia), and "Box of Rain" (Lesh restructured the melody so he could hit all the notes after years of vocal problems; a bit strained but much better than it often sounded). There are lengthy jams on "Dancin' in the Streets," "Viola Lee Blues," and a hot "Music Never Stopped," but a half-hour-plus version of Wilson Pickett's "In the Midnight Hour" from 1967 has way too much of Roger "Pigpen" McKernan's jiving with the audience (despite a pretty good 13-minute jam) to make it something to come back to. Otherwise, Phil Zone is mostly quite substantial and points the way for future releases.The budget ($18.50 for a three-CD set) Dick's Picks series continues with items that are more noteworthy than the last two, though that's not saying much. But GD fans will probably enjoy these despite their flaws. They're available by mail from GDM, 1-800-225-3323. Dick's Picks Vol. 7 comes from London shows in 1974, during a period when the Dead traveled with a three-story-tall sound system. The sound is remarkably clean, but the vocals don't come up adequately in the mix until the second disc, and even then they're not as prominent as one might want. Most of the tunes are on other albums, but the Weir-Barlow numbers "Mexicali Blues" and "Black Throated Wind" are relative rarities. There are several extended jams: a 26-minute "Weather Report Suite"/"Stella Blue," a 28-minute "Truckin'"/"Wharf Rat," and a mammoth 44-minute "Dark Star"/"Morning Dew," which are mostly pretty interesting (the last is also quite abstract). There is also a lively 16-minute "Not Fade Away." A 23-minute "Playing in the Band" seems stuck in a muddle, but in general the band is tight and musically effective with attractive jazz overtones in many places.Dick Pick's Vol. 8 has a 1970 concert from Binghampton, NY's, Harpur College that's long been legendary on the tape circuit. There's a disc of the acoustic set the Dead did at the time with several folk tunes ("Deep Elem Blues", "Don't Ease Me In," a re-worked "I Know You Rider," the bluegrass spiritual "Cold Jordan" fleshed out with guest New Riders) and songs from their acoustic period ("Dire Wolf," "Black Peter," "Cumberland Blues," "Uncle John's Band"). This stuff sounds better than later versions of the tunes often did: sure, the boys muffed the harmonies more than most groups, but not much on this show -- it sounds as good as CSNY's contemporary Four Way Street. The two live discs are in mono: remember the D.P. series comes from soundboard, not professional multitrack tapes. The sound is acceptable, though. The band lights into the full "That's It for the Other One" (including the soon-to-be-dropped section from Garcia) that sustains considerable intensity over its 28 minutes. and there's a rare version of the goofy "Cosmic Charlie" and extended versions of five cover tunes -- "Good Lovin'" and James Brown's "It's A Man's World" (both essayed by Pigpen, who doesn't overdo here), The Vandellas' "Dancing in the Street," (with a jazzy jam), a nice "Morning Dew," and "Viola Lee Blues" again. The only dud is "Man's World," where the band's backing vocals are hilariously "white" and no jamming occurs. Otherwise, this show lives up to its reputation and goes a long way toward demonstrating why the Dead got their reputation as a killer live act in the first place. One quibble: D. P. 7 and 8 and other recent sets need to have the overabundant between-song tunings and discussion of monitor levels excised; there's about 10 minutes of this on D.P. 8 ,and it's hard to imagine even the most hardcore Deadhead wanting to sit through it more than once.While Dick's Picks 4 was being assembled, tapes were also discovered of the Allman Brothers Band opening for the Dead in New York which Grateful Dead Records are now releasing as Fillmore East 2/70. A year prior to the justly lionized Fillmore/Eat a Peach live dates, the Allman's were building their rep, and even though they got even better over that year, it's hard to imagine a blues-rock band anywhere who could top this group in 1970 -- or since. The 70-minute CD has an early "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed," relatively rare versions of "Hoochie Coochie Man" and "Outskirts of Town," and a 30-minute "Mountain Jam." Recording quality is surprisingly good, and the performances are different enough from the later versions to keep you listening.Like Phil Zone, How Sweet It Is by the Jerry Garcia Band is available in stores as well as from GDM. Garcia's side project played mostly covers from Bob Dylan and The Band ("Tough Mama," "Tears of Rage") and R&B artists ranging from Hank Ballard to Marvin Gaye (the title tune) and could range from boring to quite interesting depending on what shape the leader was in. As lead vocalist and primary soloist on every tune, Garcia is very much the focal point, and the relatively simple backing group (organ, bass, drums, and female backing vocals) sometimes gave him a platform for his best, most coherent guitar work. This was evident on the mostly very fine Jerry Garcia Band, and these 1990 tracks are from the same era, but not quite on the same level, mainly due to less interesting songs. Anyone who had problems with Jerry's singing already won't be converted by the strain one hears in his voice by this period; nevertheless, there's plenty for JG fans: most of the songs haven't been done by him or the Dead before, his enunciation and pitch are generally good, the guitar work is clean and focused and the soul grooves tasty. Garcia sure picked a nice vein for this band to work in, and if he couldn't be Dylan, B.B. King, and Van Morrison all at once, you can't blame the cat for trying.


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