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Music Review: The Very Best of Jerry Garcia

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I meet this CD with mixed emotions. First, I love Jerry: the way he plays, his voice, the lyrics written by him and Robert Hunter over the years, the entire Jerry Garcia experience. There was no doubt when I received this two-disk set that I would totally dig on what was waiting for me inside.

Yet, I had to wonder why music companies keep pumping out music by dead artists. I know Jerry made a lot of music in his time, and I am grateful it keeps coming to light, but Jerry needs to take a break. Shit, man, the poor Kat has been working harder now than he did when he was a live, or so it seems.

On a more professional note, this is a two-disk set with twenty-six tracks that catch Jerry at peak moments. Now don't start complaining to me out about what is better and what is best and all that; I didn't name this set. Do I think it’s the very best? Like I said above, Jerry made so much music with so many people aside from his work with The Grateful Dead, what might be one of his best performances to one might seem "phoned in" by someone else.

The way I take this as being the "very best" is like this: here on these CDs, Jerry is at one of his peak moments. He's in the zone and to catch any musician in one of those moments is like watching a shooting star from beginning to end. These tracks here do that. Jerry is right in the pocket and you can hear it and sense it.

CD number one has sixteen tracks, all recorded in studios over various times in various places. This is what the Garcia sound is like in a studio: crisp, clear, and all the notes are played well. One can perceive the true sound of Garcia. His professionalism shines through and can stand up to any soundboard mixer around.

Let me also be clear that none of the songs on either of these CDs are played with the Dead. This is all the Jerry Garcia Band and the JGAB (Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band), with two exceptions. On disc two, track 1 is played by Old & In The Way, a collective with Vassar Clements, David Grisman, Peter Rowan, John Kahn, and, of course, Garcia. The other is track number seven, "Dear Prudence," played by Reconstruction, a John Kahn jazz band.

As disc one was the studio Jerry, disc two, with its ten tracks, is the concert Jerry. Here's were the real magic happens. Once again, different venues at different times, but each song has the same flair. I enjoy live recordings because the energy from the audience can sometimes creep through the speakers and electrify you, give you the chills, and bring back good memories.

The downside to live tracks happens when the singer sings away from the microphone. You miss some of the lyrics, which is one of the main reasons you are listening. This happens on track number three, "Ripple," but for the most part, these songs have been around and most of us Deadheads, Jerry freaks, or whatever already know what's about to be sung, so in truth, I'm just being a whiner.

The Very Best of Jerry Garcia is great for a collector or a fan of Garcia. It is also a great mix of bluegrass and blues, and with songs like "Run For the Roses," "Cats Under the Stars," and "Sugaree" you can't go wrong. I'm not going to say this is Garcia's "very best," but it comes pretty damn close.

Written by Fumo Verde

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS
  • http://midnightcafe.wordpress.com Mat Brewster

    This is the type of set I tend to pass on. I find studio Jerry to be mostly mediocre, and well, I have most of it anyway.

    Live Jerry ruled of course, but I prefer to nab the full show releases and downloads.