Beyond Description (1973–1989)
Part Three: Blues for Allah
The Music Box's #8 specialty package for 2004
First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2004, Volume 11, #12
Written by John Metzger
Although it wouldn’t resume a full-fledged touring schedule for another year and a half, the Grateful Dead effectively ended its self-imposed hiatus when it reconvened at Ace’s, a recording studio located above Bob Weir’s garage, in January 1975 — a mere three months after it had performed its "farewell" concert in San Francisco. This time, however, things would be different. Without any songs or even a preconceived notion as to where its journey would lead, the group — which once again included drummer Mickey Hart — began working on its eighth endeavor by crafting its music collaboratively, translating what it had been doing for years on stage into a more controlled environment.
The relaxed atmosphere proved to be cathartic, and although the Grateful Dead was forced at the request of its label to complete Blues for Allah in rapid fashion, the outing became a nearly perfect masterpiece. In one sense, the band further developed the jazz-oriented framework that it had been exploring, however tentatively, on Wake of the Flood. On the other hand, much of the collection was the sound of the Grateful Dead rebuilding itself from scratch, carrying its fables from the Old West into the cosmos where its music long had resided. True, the group had been appropriating Miles Davis’ fusion experiments for several years, but liberated from its past, the ensemble fully absorbed these ruminations and re-crafted them into a fresh batch of songs. This, of course, was most notable on the intricate instrumental interludes of Slipknot! and King Solomon’s Marbles as well as on the epic title track (with its space-y meditations and chirping crickets), but in truth, nothing — from the reflective, acoustic beauty of Sage & Spirit to the urgent assault of Help on the Way to the jaunty ride through Franklin’s Tower — was untouched by this bold, new direction. When merged with Robert Hunter’s lyrics, which now had turned significantly more abstract — particularly via the subtle political leanings of the tune for which the effort was named as well as on the series of haiku around which the gentle, lilting reggae of Crazy Fingers was constructed — Blues for Allah became a prayer for peace, both in the Middle East as well as around the globe, one that tied disparate cultures together in a way that resonates as powerfully today as when it was initially released.
The six bonus tracks featured on the recent reissue of Blues for Allah offer an insightful glimpse as to how the final album took shape. The indifferently titled Groove #1 and Groove #2 are sterling representations of the Grateful Dead blissfully exploring jazz-fusion, while A to E Flat Jam finds the group returning to more folk and blues-infused fare á la Wake of the Flood; named after the screaming guitar of Jerry Garcia, the lengthy Distorto hints, at times, at Crazy Fingers while also folding in shades of The Beatles’ influence upon the band; Proto 18 Proper delves into a gleeful tropical rhythm; and Hollywood Cantata is an inferior, but no less intriguing, early glimpse at The Music Never Stopped. Taken in total, these loose, but spirited improvisations unquestionably are some of the finest nuggets unearthed for Beyond Description (1973–1989). ˝
This is the third installment of a ten-part
series, which will examine Beyond Description (1973–1989) on
an album by album basis. The entire set is rated:
Of Further Interest...
Beyond Description (1973-1989) is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!
Blues for Allah [REMASTERED CD] is available from
Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2004 The Music Box