Jerry Garcia Band -- Pure Jerry, Volume 7: Coliseum, Hampton, VA 11/09/91 (Jerry Made Records)
Although the Grateful Dead continued to be a perpetually touring machine in the early 1990s, Jerry Garcia (guitar/vocals) often carved out enough time to take his own combo cross country. In this installment of the Pure Jerry series, the Jerry Garcia Band (JGB) are captured in exceptional form during a rare jaunt below the Mason-Dixon Line. As a special unannounced guest, on-again/off-again Grateful Dead keyboardist Bruce Hornsby's presence takes on a particular poignancy as the Virginia native brings it all back home to the Coliseum in Hampton.
Although not as voluminous -- when compared to the Dead -- the JGB's songbook were equally as eclectic. Garcia effortlessly coalesces his seemingly incongruous musical influences, stretching as far a field as the uptempo bluegrass-inspired "Midnight Moonlight" to the smooth groove flowing through the Manhattan's '70s soul ballad "Shining Star".
The band leader's penchant for classic R&B is best exemplified by the inclusion of Motown hits "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)" and "I Second That Emotion," the funky reworking of Chuck Berry's "You Never Can Tell (C'est La Vie)," and a thoroughly exploratory interpretation of Roy Hamilton's late '50s shaker "Don't Let Go". Those moments are rivaled by affective readings of Bob Dylan's plaintive "I Shall Be Released," as well as an appropriately epic retelling of "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down."
All that, plus a free JGB guitar pick! No really, a replica of Garcia's pick comes with each package, recalling those cool kiddy breakfast cereal premiums of our youth.
Grateful Dead -- Live at The Cow Palace, New Year's Eve 1976 (Rhino)
On any given night, The Grateful Dead could be hit or miss -- brilliant or embarrassing. And as the three-plus hours in this package suggest, they could often run that gamut within the confines of a single evening. Live At The Cow Palace (2007) features an entire show, packed with plenty of that wonderful psychedelic stuff the band became famous for.
Much like the post-retirement Muhammad Ali, when the Grateful Dead returned from their mid '70s hiatus, some of the subtleties had irrevocably eroded away. Specifically, the band's agile lightening-in-a-bottle interaction mellowed the arrangements on the one-time rockers "Bertha" and "Mama Tried". Conversely, the 25+ minute "Playing In The Band" is of the highest caliber, recalling an era when this kind of acidic excursion was the norm, not the exception. Likewise, it is a harbinger of the sonic psychotropic delights to follow.
The second set soars with a spacious and energetic "Eyes Of The World" that dissolves into a medley with an equally inspired visitation of the hard luck saga "Wharf Rat". Things get really interesting after "Good Lovin'" spirals into a laidback rendition of "Samson & Delilah" that is wholly unlike any other. Speaking of unique, there are similar anomalies, including a "Help On The Way"/"Slipknot!" pairing that dissolves into a short percussion and bass duet before hitting the "Not Fade Away," "Morning Dew" and "One More Saturday Night" homestretch.
The encore is suitably auspicious with a sublimely passionate "Uncle John's Band" and the most treasured of Deadhead benedictions, "We Bid You Goodnight". This version is ultra rare as it comes replete with instrumentation, instead of being sung a capella.
Buddy Guy -- Can't Quit The Blue (Silvertone/Legacy)
On May 30th Buddy Guy will mark five decades as one of the most influential guitarists to have ever played the blues. In celebration of this milestone comes the aptly-titled four volume Can't Quit The Blues box set. This is the very first anthology of its kind, spanning Guy's entire career with a half-a-dozen previously unreleased tracks to boot.
Once Guy relocated to Chicago, he became a regular at the legendary Chess Studios, where he laid down some of his earliest sides. Among them are covers of Willie Dixon's "Sit And Cry (The Blues)" and "Let Me Love You Baby," Ike Turner's "This Is The End" and his own compositions, including "Ten Years Ago" and "Stone Crazy". While at Chess, he took full advantage of playing behind incendiary instrumentalists such as Lafayette Leake (piano), Jack Meyers (bass), Fred Below (drums), Otis Span (piano) and, upon occasion Junior Wells (harmonica).
Wells and Guy quickly became kindred spirits as heard on "When My Left Eye Jumps," "Hoodoo Man Blues," "In The Wee Hours," "T-Bone Shuffle" and the star-studded "When You See The Tears From My Eyes," with Pinetop Perkins (piano) and Rolling Stone co-founder Bill Wyman (bass). "Ten Years Ago" and "Hoodoo Man Blues" from that 1974 Montreux Jazz Festival confab can also be accessed on the full-length DVD, containing the 90 minute documentary "My Time After Awhile". More about that in a moment.
Discs Two and Three focus on more recent material, starting with Guy's early 1990s renaissance, the groundbreaking Damn Right I've Got The Blues (1991). Otherwise there is an excellent overview of the long players, Feels Like Rain (1993), Slippin' In (1994), Live! The Real Deal (1996), Heavy Love (1998), Buddy's Baddest (1999), Sweet Tea (2001), Blues Singer (2002) and Bring 'Em In (2005). Scattered among them are the never before available sides "Your Mind Is On Vacation," "Nobody Understands Me But My Guitar," "Honey Bee," "I'd Rather Be Blind, Crippled & Crazy" and "I Miss You," featuring a duet with Shemekia Copeland.
The afore mentioned DVD contains non-stop rarities and riveting performances. The backdrop -- the infamous Legends club in Chicago -- provides suitable ambiance as Guy talks about his seminal influences and working relationships with Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson and of course, Junior Wells. Plus, there are unreleased clips from the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1978 with Wells in tow on "Messin' With The Kid" and "Come On In This House," among others.
The 48-page booklet is chocked full of the standard fare: liner notes, lots of cool and rare photos, a bio-timeline and track-by-track annotations.
Lindsay Planer is a freelance journalist and technical producer at WBT AM/FM in Charlotte, NC. He is a regular contributor to All Music Guide, CrutchfieldAdvisor.com and Gaston Gazette. Comments and questions can be sent to <firstname.lastname@example.org>.