Pickin' on the Dead
First Appeared in The Music Box August 1998, Volume 5, #8
Written by John Metzger
David West is the musician at the core of this collection of bluegrass renditions of Grateful Dead songs. It's an interesting project that makes a lot of sense, given the background of the Grateful Dead.
Right from the start, the Dead carried a bluegrass undercurrent in their songs. Jerry Garcia first learned to play banjo and bluegrass music, and it is this style that he later applied to guitar. Of course there was also Old & in the Way, Garcia's offshoot bluegrass project.
On this disc, West performs on banjo, guitar, mandolin, dulcimer, dobro, and a variety of percussion instruments, nearly creating a one-man bluegrass band on Dark Star and Ripple. He pulls other musicians in for the remainder of the thirteen tracks, but it's West's virtuosity and dedication to the project that really make this disc work.
Some of the songs sound a lot like something Béla Fleck and the Flecktones might have offered up when Howard Levy was still with the band. On Pickin' on the Dead, it's Tom Ball who adds the harmonica part, but it sounds a lot like something Levy would have played.
Nearly all of the tracks are extraordinary, original takes on familiar Grateful Dead songs, and even those people who have yet to venture into listening to bluegrass music should find them accessible. West captures the spirit of the band well, carrying many of the tracks into some new territory outside the familiar framework of the song — much like the Dead once did in their live performances.
Pickin' on the Dead 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 © 1998 The Music Box