Marshall Blonstein’s Audio Fidelity imprint has just released two beautiful reissues on LP from the Grateful Dead catalog. Blues for Allah (1975) and Shakedown Street (1978) are available in limited, numbered gatefold-package editions, remastered from the original sound sources onto 180-gram “pure virgin vinyl,” with all the original artwork. All marketing hype aside, they sound gorgeous, with immersive space, crisp highs, full mids, and (considering how effervescent this band was, even—or especially—in the studio) nicely throaty lows. These hefty chunks of black vinyl in their gorgeous packaging should please Grateful Dead fanatics, classic rock album collectors, and audiophiles alike; it’s probably safe to say the two albums never sounded better.
From the spacey simplicity of “Franklin’s Tower” and the folky easygoingness of “Sage & Spirit” to the classic psychedelia of “Slipknot” and the experimental jazziness of “King Solomon’s Marbles,” Blues for Allah shows off the Grateful Dead at their studio best. Even the spacier and, let’s face it, sometimes rather limp material on Side Two—some of which can reach only a brain aloft on hallucinogens—takes on clear new life on this rich-sounding LP. (Even Donna Godchaux’s hollow chirping on the otherwise bracing “The Music Never Stopped” sounds almost inoffensive here). Given the terrible events of the last decade perpetrated in the name of Allah, it’s also worth noting a few lines from the mystical title track: “What good is spilling blood?/It will not grow a thing.”
Shakedown Street, the Dead’s 10th album, was produced by Lowell George, who gives it an appealingly loose, almost scattered quality. Though the album itself may not be remembered much these days, it introduced both “Fire on the Mountain” and “I Need a Miracle,” which became concert staples. It also boasts the title track, a nod by rock’s greatest jam band to disco and always one of my favorite Dead songs, I’m not ashamed to admit. All sound crystal-clear here, though the keyboards and vocals feel a little brittle (that’s how they were recorded originally).
For avid collectors, these reissues come at a reasonable price, though it’s more than you’ll pay for a new CD or download. If you can spring for only one, and specific song desires aren’t swaying you one way or the other, Blues for Allah is the superior album; the Dead were in a tighter songwriting groove in ’75 than in ’78, and there’s also more musicianly excitement on display on the earlier record.
I have no hesitation in recommending these LPs for any fan of the Grateful Dead or their era.