The GRATEFUL DEAD – ” Workingmans Dead ” 50th Anniversary Deluxe Reissue

Posted: May 7, 2020 in ALBUMS, MUSIC
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The Grateful Dead‘s first of two 1970 albums, Workingman’s Dead, is about to turn 50 years old this June, and in celebration of that, they’ll put out a 50th anniversary deluxe reissue that comes with a previously unreleased concert recording from Port Chester, New York’s Capitol Theatre on February 21, 1971.

“For an album as important and great as Workingman’s Dead, it seemed appropriate to double the amount of bonus material,” said Grateful Dead archivist and producer David Lemieux.

The show we’ve selected gives a definitive overview of what the band were up to six months after the release of the album and shows the Dead sound that would largely define the next couple of years. From Workingman’s Dead through Europe ’72, the Dead’s sound was Americana, and the live show included here is a workingman’s band playing authentically honest music.”

The original LP was released on June 14th, 1970, and marked a pivotal change for the Dead. Their previous three studio albums, including 1969’s predecessor Aoxomoxoa and the landmark concert LP Live/Dead, also from 1969, emphasized the six-member band’s psychedelic shadings and experimental streak. But with Workingman’s Dead, they scaled back and stripped down for a roots-digging Americana record that gave the Grateful Dead their first Top 30 album. The LP also spawned the Dead’s first Top 40 single, with “Uncle John’s Band”,

The liner notes were written by Rolling Stone‘s David Fricke, who adds, “The Capitol Theatre show was] a great night in what has long been deemed a legendary run, another turning point as the band entered a live era combining the focus of Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty with the exploratory verve of Live/Dead. Many of the classic songs spread across Dead LPs in 1971 and ’72… were introduced that week at the Capitol, and many of them are in this concert, still fresh off the griddle.”The Grateful Dead continued this folk-rock sound on the follow-up album, American Beauty which was released less than five months after.

Workingman’s Dead is a great album for a lot of reasons. From the purple mountains’ majesty of inventive steel guitar and pedal steel (“High Time,” “Dire Wolf”) to the fruited plains of goofy choogles (“New Speedway Boogie,” “Easy Wind”) and the nimble flatpicking and banjo (“Cumberland Blues”), this album is a nation of guitar. Also, I just love the sound of Jerry Garcia’s guitar through the Leslie rotating cabinet on “Casey Jones” and “High Time.”

These songs are harmonically unorthodox, with progressions both lyrical and inspired. The surprising minor key outro of “Uncle John’s Band!” The mid-phrase key change in “High Time!” The ninth chords in “Black Peter,” which feel almost like Satie moves! And, lest it all get too muso, this album plays yin to its own yang: for every wonderfully non-repeating labyrinth like the bridge of “Dire Wolf,” there’s a two-chord blues workout like “Easy Wind.”

The way the drums drop in on the second verse of “High Time” — quietly, stuffed entirely into the right channel, but full of character — feels emblematic of Kreutzmann and Hart’s approach. What a melodic and sensitive double-rhythm section team! There are so many details in the kit playing and percussion that elevate these recordings: the brushes on “Black Peter,” the guiro on “Uncle John’s Band,” the handclaps and maracas (mixed surprisingly loud!) on “New Speedway Boogie,” the beautiful snare tuned high on “Uncle John’s Band,” and elsewhere. The carefully calibrated dynamics and drum tuning throughout are really marvelous.

And let’s not forget: the singing is pretty incredible too. Jerry, taking lead duties on every song except the Pigpen-fronted “Easy Wind,” is at his most commanding and soulful. (“New Speedway Boogie,” “Casey Jones,” “Dire Wolf” and “Black Peter” are particular faves). His performances are brought into sharper relief by the blithely loose harmonies from Bob, Phil and Pigpen that pepper the record and remind me, happily, more of the Wailers than of the Dead’s smoother Californian contemporaries like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young or the Byrds.

There are the occasional hokey old-time tropes about miners and trains and gin — which, hey, Jerry almost pulls off — but many of these images and rhymes have a kind of legitimately out-of-time uncanniness. “Come on along or go alone, he’s come to take his children home” sounds like a lost couplet from a 300-year-old nursery rhyme. These songs feel like stories, but often the particulars aren’t quite clear — like old tales that have shed so many details in retelling that they’ve lost literal sense, but acquired a kind of sculptural presence.

And that’s what Workingman’s Dead is to me: a totem — of America, of a band.

The fiery rendition of “Casey Jones” from that show is streaming now, and you can listen to it and check out the full track list below. The reissue comes out July 10th.

Workingman’s Dead 50th Anniversary Reissue CD Tracklist
Disc One — Original Album Remastered
1. “Uncle John’s Band”
2. “High Time”
3. “Dire Wolf”
4. “New Speedway Boogie”
5. “Cumberland Blues”
6. “Black Peter”
7. “Easy Wind”
8. “Casey Jones”

Disc Two — Capitol Theatre, Port Chester, NY (2/21/71)
1. “Cold Rain And Snow”
2. “Me and Bobby McGee”
3. “Loser”
4. “Easy Wind”
5. “Playing in the Band”
6. “Bertha”
7. “Me and My Uncle”
8. “Ripple” (False Start)
9. “Ripple”
10. “Next Time You See Me”
11. “Sugar Magnolia”
12. “Greatest Story Ever Told”
13. “Johnny B. Goode”

Disc Three — Capitol Theatre, Port Chester, NY (2/21/71)
1. “China Cat Sunflower”>
2. “I Know You Rider”>
3. “Bird Song”
4. “Cumberland Blues”
5. “I’m a King Bee”
6. “Beat It on Down The Line”
7. “Wharf Rat”
8. “Truckin’”
9. “Casey Jones”
10. “Good Lovin’”
11. “Uncle John’s Band”

Meanwhile, Bob Weir continues his ‘Weir Wednesdays’ streaming series tonight (5/6) at 8 PM ET with his Wolf Bros show from 11/5/2018 in Nashville. Tune in for free at Facebook.

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