The music that came from Jerry Garcia was a smorgasbord of styles, a blend and mix of jazz, rock, country, and folk. With a hand in all the Grateful Dead projects as well as the myriad of solo works, begun as soon as he had gained notoriety as the leader of internationally known The Grateful Dead, Garcia amassed a large library of musical gems that require far more attention than a single disc collection can hope to highlight. Arguing non-inclusions here is such a futile act as much of Garcia’s recorded output, both studio and live, are very hard to ignore. But, to be complete and perfect, you would have to purchase each solo album and the live collections that were released during his lifetime.
Rhino has assembled a great collection of Garcia classics, both studio and live cuts, dedicating a disc for each on this CD retrospective that should easily satisfy even the most scrutinizing of fans. This tri-fold digipak is home to a wide expanse of Garcia’s musical spread, and his wings were spread wide.
Disc One begins with the bluesy, Dead-like “Deal” found on Garcia’s debut self-titled album, Garcia. Other tracks from that album are here as well. Songs like the near-perfect “Bird Song” and the delightful “Sugaree” are excellent tunes from that first album along with “Loser,” and the upfront pedal steel beauty of the country tune, “The Wheel.” There are two songs from Garcia – Compliments of that include the Chuck Berry tune “Let It Rock” (a well made Berry knockoff at that) and the Irving Berlin jazz tune, “Russian Lullaby,” a song that has such an ethereal jazz energy to it that is difficult to ignore.
The rest of Disc One provides tunes from Reflections, Cats Under The Stars (the official Jerry Garcia Band), and Run For the Roses, which includes a reggae-styled version of Bob Dylan’s classic Pat Garrett and Bill the Kid tune, “Knockin on Heaven’s Door.”
Disc Two provides a much purer listen to the magic of Jerry Garcia as he excelled in a live element. With a huge selection of live cuts available from the man, Rhino selects 10 excellent tunes that include “Senor – Tales of Yankee Power” from Dylan’s Street Legal period as well as “Positively 4th Street” from the Garcia Plays Dylan album. The disc starts with the bluegrass flavoured “Catfish John” and completes with a live version of “Deal,” the same song that begins this entire set as a studio cut. There is also the bonus of a previously unissued tune (yeah right…y’mean from the labels) with the 11-minute plus version of his 1979 performance of “Dear Prudence.” In between there is a great range of live songs spanning from as early as 1973 to as late as 1990. The songs included here are as representative of the maturity of Garcia’s live performances as they are of the type of songs that Garcia loved to play and adapt as his own.
The set includes a 16-page booklet that includes pictures, set-list, credits, and a very descriptive essay from Blair Jackson that evaluates the songs found on this set. The essay is excellent and very informative. All in all, The Very Best of Jerry Garcia is a righteous representation of classic Garcia with generous dips into the cream of Jerry Garcia’s recorded albums. This collection is highly recommended to all Garcia and Grateful Dead fans as well as ANY young listener of music. To hear such a firm grasp of the best of rock from the talent of a legend is a refreshing thing. With the shifting soundscapes of our musical world, it can help to influence the next wave of musical creation. On top of all this, and as is par for the course for Dead releases, this CD is encoded in HDCD.
We really do miss you, Jerry Garcia.