Rare Cuts & Oddities 1966
First Appeared in The Music Box, April 2005, Volume 12, #4
Written by John Metzger
The title of the latest installment of archival material from the Grateful Dead only partially tells the story of its contents. Granted, the 18-track Rare Cuts & Oddities 1966 features plenty of collectible curiosities that are more likely to appeal to the ensembleís fanatical followers than anyone else: In addition to the pair of originals (You See a Broken Heart, Standing on the Corner) that quickly faded from the bandís repertoire, Jerry Garcia rather than Bob Weir sings lead on a cover of Chuck Berryís Promised Land; an early interpretation of Buddy Hollyís Not Fade Away places its blues-y, Bo Diddley-fied stomp directly in the spotlight; and Cream Puff War is presented with a modified set of lyrics. Itís intriguing stuff, for sure, but itís also more anecdotal than insightful.
A closer examination of Rare Cuts & Oddities 1966, however, yields a striking portrait of a group that was still in the formative stages of crafting its image. Even so, many of the pieces that became core components of the Grateful Deadís signature sound are buried within the albumís selections. Betty and Dupree displays the collectiveís fascination with folk music; Silver Threads and Golden Needles emphasizes its country-oriented inclinations; Sick and Tired demonstrates its affinity for soulful blues; and Stealiní highlights its knack for transforming jug band fare into sunny, í60s-style pop.
Yet, itís the aura of the Rolling Stones that weighs most heavily upon the Grateful Dead throughout Rare Cuts & Oddities 1966. Not only did the band pluck songs like Rufus Thomasí Walking the Dog and James Mooreís Iím a King Bee from the initial forays of its prototypical predecessor, but it also delivered its material with a similar brand of ragged, raw exuberance while placing its own unique stamp upon it. Itís here, of course, that the set finds its heart as Jerry Garcia and Ron "Pigpen" McKernan continuously spur one another to intensify their respective accompaniments. Walking the Dog is furious and frazzled, and it points toward the groupís later composition Mr. Charlie. Tackled at breakneck speed, Good Loviní is an exhilarating blast of raw adrenaline, while Big Railroad Blues is a sprightly surge of gritty, R&B-inflected rock. As for the pairing of Iím a King Bee and Caution (Do Not Stop on Tracks) that concludes the collection, it alludes to the lysergic-drenched terrain that the ensemble would so masterfully traverse in the not too distant future. Although thereís no question that Birth of the Dead provides a more comprehensive and seamless overview of this same era of the Grateful Deadís history, Rare Cuts and Oddities 1966 contains a myriad of captivating moments that are simply too good or too fascinating for either neophytes or diehard historians to ignore.
Rare Cuts & Oddities, 1966 is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2005 The Music Box