So Many Roads (1965-1995)
First Appeared at The Music Box, November 1999, Volume 6, #11
Written by John Metzger
Over the past few years, it would seem that anyone who can spell "Garcia" has managed to write a book to capitalize on the legacy of the late Grateful Dead guitarist. Of course, there's no doubt that Arista Records, the band's recording label, has been knocking on the group's door looking for a retrospective package since Jerry Garcia's death in 1995. So why, then has it taken so long for a box set from this legendary band to be released? Two reasons: the timing just wasn't right, and the folks at Dead Central have always been more concerned about the quality of their products than the mass-commercialization of the ensemble's name — hence, the group's grassroots success.
On November 9, Grateful Dead Records in conjunction with Arista will at long last present the five-disc compilation So Many Roads (1965-1999). All of the material featured on this set is previously unreleased and includes concert, studio, and rehearsal recordings. In addition, fans of the band will finally get pristine versions of the final songs composed by Garcia and long-time lyricist Robert Hunter as well as an outstanding rehearsal of the Bob Weir/Willie Dixon collaboration Eternity.
Just how do you go about narrowing down all of the material available to create a compendium that will fit on a mere five-disc package? It certainly wasn't easy, and I don't envy those who had to make the decisions. There's no question that a large volume of material was left on the cutting room floor, unable to be squeezed into the confines of this collection. This, of course, is exactly what will create arguments throughout the Deadhead community over what was included and what should have been. Suffice it to say, however, that the music contained on the single-CD sampler, is nothing short of phenomenal.
An early version of Cream Puff War displays the Grateful Dead's nascent surging level of energy combined with its propensity to explore fully a song's boundaries. Taken from a concert in 1966, it's a glimpse into not only where the group began its journey, but also to where it was heading. From thirteen years later comes a glorious Estimated Prophet that rides the crests of the composition's complex rhythmic waves. Perhaps the best view of the band, however, comes from a New Year's Eve 1984 rendition of Shakedown Street. This single track encompasses everything it means to be a true improvisational rock band — with all the peaks and pitfalls that go along with it. The Grateful Dead excelled on stage, and this song is a good demonstration as to why. As the musicians launch into the tune, they seem to be in slow motion, searching for something to bring them all together as one cohesive unit. The song sounds somewhat sluggish, and the ensemble appears to be in disarray. Yet, what could have been a complete train wreck turns into what is, perhaps, the best version of Shakedown Street that the collective ever performed. As the sorcery that is so much a part of the Grateful Dead experience begins to work its magic, all of the musical elements are pulled together tight as a bow. Garcia's lead guitar dodges and weaves with celebratory glee against the backdrop of Weir's funky rhythm, and keyboardist Brent Mydland sprinkles his electric piano and organ fills like pixie dust. Further stirring the song's cosmic vortex is the wildly dancing bass of Phil Lesh and the pulsating percussion of Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart. The result is a musical exploration like no other — a transcendental journey that carries the listener through a meditative dream-state at the end of which is pure enlightenment.
In addition to the music, the box set promises a 60-page hardcover booklet featuring previously unpublished photographs and essays on the Grateful Dead's contributions to the history of rock 'n‘ roll. If you're a Deadhead, So Many Roads is sure to be on the top of your Christmas list, but if you're not, this set is a great place to start experiencing the magic and wonder that many of us have known about for a long, long time.
So Many Roads 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 © 1999 The Music Box