Sunday, November 20, 2005

CD Review: Jerry Garcia Band - Pure Jerry: Theatre 1839

Jerry Garcia was a guitar playing mofo-son-of-a-ho. For thirty years he played 100+ shows with the Grateful Dead annually. When he wasn’t playing for his day job, he was gigging in clubs with an ever changing assortment of characters in the Jerry Garcia Band. Or he’d hit up Merle Saunders for a jam session and stop by David Grisman’s home to fiddle around. They tell tales of Garcia jamming on a few tunes for the Dead’s opening band, then sitting in with the New Riders of the Purple Sage on steel guitar; and then playing some five hours with the Grateful Dead. The man loved to play music.

In a move akin to the Grateful Dead’s release every note played policy, the Jerry Garcia estate has quickly been releasing a series of Jerry Garcia Band shows. The first in the series titled Pure Jerry is three disks from July 29 and 30 1977. Like a lot of the Dead sets from this year, these shows smoke!

The Garcia Band usually contained very little music that the Dead played. This was Garcia’s chance to play music that didn’t necessarily fit within the scope of the Grateful Dead. These disks are no different. There are numbers from Motown, Jamaica, God, and several tracks from Bob Dylan.

Garcia loved a soulful ballad. And though no one is gonna put Garcia’s voice on any all time list, he has a way of projecting emotion that reaches down, far into his very guts.

For my money, it’s the upbeat numbers that make this set worth the price of the ticket, er CD. The opening track, “Mystery Train” is a barn burner showcasing both Garcia’s talent for ruminating on a theme, and Keith Godchaux’s ability as a piano man. The two take some nice leads and dance around each other in a glorious ballroom mania.

As with the Grateful Dead, the Jerry Garcia Band could jam a song out into beautiful, mysterious places. Yet this improvisational, take-it-as-it-comes approach to music could also lead into dead-ends, barren desserts and meandering trails leading to nowhere. More often than not, Garcia was able to lead his comrades into rock-n-roll nirvana, but sometimes, like here during “Russian Lullabye”, the song loses control of itself. After a lovely, melody shaking groove the song breaks down into a pointless, boring bass solo.

Nearly every song includes something of a jam, and mostly the band is able to pull it off. Whether it is the soft, rock-a-bye lilt of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”, or the get off your keister and dance bebop twist to Dylan’s “Tangled Up In Blue”, Garcia and Co. are ready to take you out there, to find new spaces for music.

Though there are a few misses, and some all to long rambles (the 27 minutes of “Don’t Let Go” if about 15 minutes too much) these three disks are filled with so many moments of brilliance, it is a definite must have for any Rock lover. It is also a brilliant place to find one of the all time guitarists genius outside of the Grateful Dead.

And at $19.98 for three full disks of music, it is quite a bargain.

For more info on this disk, and to purchase it (for it isn’t listen on Amazon) go to

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