Weir Here: The Best of Bob Weir
First Appeared at The Music Box, April 2004, Volume 11, #4
Written by John Metzger
Bob Weir is, perhaps, the least appreciated member of the Grateful Dead despite the fact that the music he contributed to the band was some of its most complex and adventurous material. As the groupís youngest participant, Weir inevitably felt a need to prove himself to his peers, and his compositions tended to invoke complicated rhythmic arrangements and jazz-oriented chord sequences that thrust Dave Brubeckís experiments with the time-space continuum into the rock ínĎ roll community. In other words, his contributions were well-suited to the very essence of the Grateful Deadís style.
Still, Weir remains a remarkably underrated artist, and perhaps the biggest obstacle to his gaining the credibility that has eluded him ó other than the superb guitarist named Jerry Garcia, who unwillingly was placed within the spiritual spotlight that gleamed upon the Grateful Dead ó has been the overtly slick approach he took to recording many of his side projects. Despite the gems Ace and Evening Moods that, thus far, bookend his studio career, everything that came in between has been sketchy, at best. Typically, otherwise terrific tunes were polished to a glossy sheen and then buried within a morass of lesser material.
Fortunately, the non-concert portion of the recently released two-disc career retrospective Weir Here: The Best of Bob Weir largely avoids the fluff in favor of Weirís more substantial compositions. Itís hard to argue with the notion that 7 of its 16 tracks were culled from Ace and Evening Moods, given that these albums are represented by nuggets such as the airy Cassidy, the rousing rocker One More Saturday Night, the sprawling epic Two Djinn, and the jam-heavy Playing in the Band. While the trio of tracks (Easy to Slip, Wrong Way Feeliní, and Shade of Grey) plucked from Heaven Help the Fool as well as the pair of R&B workouts (Lazy Lightniní and Supplication) drawn from Kingfish venture into some extremely satiny terrain, they are also essential components of Weirís exquisite canon of songs.
As for the second half of the set, it is devoted almost entirely to concert performances, save for one previously unreleased rehearsal out-take ó a sterling rendition by Weirís latest ensemble Ratdog of Bob Dylanís Masters of War, which was captured just after the "shock and awe" portion of the 2003 Iraq bombing campaign had begun. The rest of the tracks, five of which are new to this collection, were culled from a variety of Grateful Dead shows held between 1971 and 1990. Naturally, no compilation of this nature would be complete without including the staples Truckiní, Sugar Magnolia, The Music Never Stopped, Jack Straw, and Throwing Stones, and the versions featured on Weir Here certainly donít disappoint ó even if they are available elsewhere. Of course, most of the attention will be paid to the recently unearthed material, and the best of these selections is undoubtedly the serpentine reggae groove of Estimated Prophet, though the New Orleans-baked shimmy through Norman Spanís Man Smart (Woman Smarter), the amplified boogie of New Minglewood Blues, the countrified stroll through Kris Kristoffersonís Me & Bobby McGee, and the powerhouse romp through Hell in a Bucket are exceptional and vital. In total, Weir Here: The Best of Bob Weir offers a fulfilling glimpse at the Grateful Deadís secret weapon, a rhythm guitarist and songwriter who not only provided the brilliant counterpoint to Jerry Garciaís shimmering lead, but also has been overlooked for far too long. That Weirís career has taken a new twist within the dynamic journeys of Ratdog is merely icing on an already well-decorated cake.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2004 The Music Box