Jerry Garcia Band
The Music Box's #2 specialty package for 2001
First Appeared at The Music Box, May 2001, Volume 8, #5
Written by John Metzger
Though the music contained on Shining Star — the latest release by the Jerry Garcia Band and the second two-disc set from the group in two months — was recorded between 1989 and 1993, it is presented in such a way as to create a "new" concert. The seamlessness of the package is remarkable, and each track is first-rate, top-notch Garcia. Sure, there are a few missed notes and off-kilter vocals, but unlike Don't Let Go, these are not distractions that lead the listener away from the moment. As a result, Shining Star joins 1997's How Sweet It Is and the band's 1991 self-titled double disc as essential recordings for anyone interested in Garcia's longstanding side project. What's more — each of these packages is unique, without a single song repeated among the five albums. That's quite an accomplishment, yielding an extensive series of music from the longest running rendition of JGB. And though it's getting closer, it still isn't completely comprehensive of the collective's repertoire.
So, which one of the three packages is the best? Undoubtedly it's Shining Star. Here are just a few of the many highlights and reasons why:
Shining Star: The title track glows with such radiant beauty as Garcia's fluid guitar licks melt around the stately sounds of his backing band. Together they create a serene, yet passionate ode to love that is heartfelt and joyous.
He Ain't Give You None: Garcia pours his heart into the vocals on this Van Morrison cover — a song that clearly connected with him on a very personal level. There's a level of anger and pain in both his voice and his guitar playing that gives the song an extra edge and makes it one of the best tracks on any of the JGB releases.
Russian Lullaby: This loosely flowing rumination on the classic Irving Berlin song finds bassist John Kahn in fine form, playing off Garcia's shimmering lead and taking his own solo turn. The result is a part jazz, part blues rendition that combines a sense of sorrow with a sense of hopefulness, while remaining utterly blissful.
Everybody Needs Somebody to Love: Here, the interplay between Garcia and keyboard player Melvin Seals is exquisite. The two musicians push each other to higher and higher heights as swirling organ collides with soaring guitar to give the song the same exultant energy that fueled the Grateful Dead's Scarlet Begonias.
Let's Spend the Night Together: JGB's version of this song is more relaxed and laid back than the original track by the Rolling Stones, but percussionist David Kemper propelled this rendition along at a perky pace and in the process took the band on quite a wild ride. Garcia's ebullient guitar climbs into the stratosphere, using Seals pulsating rhythmic organ fills and Kahn's funk-driven bass as support.
When the Hunter Gets Captured by the Game: This is yet another ballad that Garcia makes his own. Though he didn't have the best voice in the business, he knew how to put his to good use. His expressive vocals perfectly reflect the pain and heartbreak of the lyrics with the craggy soulfulness of an old bluesman.
Ain't No Bread in the Breadbox: This version might be a tad slower than some performed by the Jerry Garcia Band, but it more than makes up for its lack of rapid intensity with its looser, free-flowing rhythm. The relaxed pace leaves much more room for the musicians to interact and allows them to truly drive this one home. By the time the band reaches the final chorus, the song is transformed into a full-force, gospel-rock number that is simply irresistible.
Positively 4th Street: Who knows what angered Garcia so much on the night this was recorded, but Bob Dylan's venomous lyrics are spewed from Garcia's lips with total resentment. The result is a fiery rendition of this classic song that is both biting and majestic.
The Maker: This take on Daniel Lanois' epic song is unquestionably the highlight of this set. It defined the latter day incarnation of the Jerry Garcia Band and imbued the spirituality that one of Garcia's concerts could instill in even the most passive of listeners. Though Bruce Hornsby is not credited as performing on this song, one would swear that's him on piano. This song (and this rendition) is sweet and beautiful, hauntingly tender, deeply soothing, irrefutably intoxicating, and oh, so powerful. It's as good as it gets, and after hearing it, it's impossible not to miss Garcia even more.
Shining Star is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2001 The Music Box