Friday, May 6, 2011

Deep Album Tracks: Tennessee Jed

Grateful Dead: Tennessee Jed


I should probably start with an explanation. All of the posts for this theme have used album covers, so what the heck is this? As I recall, the vinyl release of the Grateful Dead’s Europe ‘72 had the words “Grateful Dead” and “Europe ‘72” printed on the shrink-wrap, but the image above is what you were left with once you peeled that off. So that is the album cover.

I had to post something by the Grateful Dead this week. They were my first favorite band. My oldest brother introduced me to them with Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty. My brother was a guitar player with visions of rock stardom, and he related to Jerry Garcia as a guitar god. But I heard something different. I was drawn to the warmth of Garcia’s voice, and especially to the storytelling in the lyrics. These qualities would eventually lead me to folk music. The Dead also introduced me to the blues, and probably made it easier for me to appreciate jazz much later. So, which album should I feature?

The Dead were at the height of their powers in the 1970s. This was the time when it all came together, and before it fell apart. Listen to the live performances captured in the Dick’s Picks and From the Vault series, and compare the recordings from the 70s to those from the 80s, and you will see what I mean. But Europe ‘72 is not from either of those series. Instead, it was an official release that came out when the band was still active. The Grateful Dead had one weakness, and that was that they were lazy singers. This meant that they hit lots of sour notes when they performed live, especially in the harmony vocals. So, for their official releases of live material, they would go into the studio and redo the vocals. Europe ’72 was done this way, and the results completely justify it. The vocals are as good as the Dead could get them, and the fire of a live performance is preserved. On Tennessee Jed, I particularly enjoy the interplay between Jerry Garcia’s guitar part and Pigpen’s piano work. In the lyric, the storytelling that I so love is on fine display, and the talking dog makes me smile.

blog comments powered by Disqus