Stolen Roses: Songs of the Grateful Dead
First Appeared in The Music Box, October 2000, Volume 7, #10
Written by John Metzger
Asking folks to define the Grateful Dead's sound is apt to generate a wide range of responses. Granted, the most common terms used will be words like "hippie," "jams," "improvisation," and "psychedelic." What's interesting, however, is all of the other countless categorizations into which the band's music can be placed. Further, very few bands have been fortunate enough to have as talented a lyricist as Robert Hunter. His universally accessible poetry added a deeply personal nature to the Grateful Dead's songs, yet his expressions were cryptic enough that the door could be left open for interpretation. It's no wonder then that the Grateful Dead phenomenon influenced so many fans and artists, and this of course, is exactly the point of David Gans' latest project: Stolen Roses: Songs of the Grateful Dead.
Over the years, as host of the nationally syndicated radio program The Grateful Dead Hour, Gans has sought out unique and interesting interpretations of the Grateful Dead's music, and he has often played many of his findings on his show. Naturally, some of these, such as the Stanford Marching Band's interpretation of Uncle John's Band and Elvis Costello's gorgeous pairing of Ship of Fools/It Must've Been the Roses, found their way onto the Stolen Roses project. Others — such as Patti Smith's haunted cover of Black Peter and Widespread Panic's punk-fueled Cream Puff War — were unearthed in the process of developing the compilation. Additional material — such as The Persuasions' surreal a cappella delivery of Black Muddy River — was recorded specifically for its inclusion on this collection (though they also recorded an entire album of Grateful Dead songs due for release in October).
As can be expected, Stolen Roses: Songs of the Grateful Dead is literally all over the map in terms of musical styles, and yet it works fabulously as a cohesive compilation. Credit Gans for sequencing the disc so perfectly that the characteristics of one track lead so gracefully into those of the next — guiding the listener from place to place with such seamless beauty that it truly goes unnoticed. On those rare occasions when the artists' particular mannerisms don't quite mesh — such as sandwiching The Pontiac Brothers' '80s L.A.-rock interpretation of Brown-Eyed Women between the magnificent musical theater of High Time and Bob Dylan's gloriously free-spirited cover of Friend of the Devil — Gans allows Hunter's majestic lyrics to carry the load, thereby building the bridge for him. How else could one possibly make the transition from the Cache Valley Drifters' fun-filled, frolicking bluegrass rave of Cumberland Blues to the post-punk, psychedelic, hard rock of Henry Rollins' Franklin's Tower cover to the David Grisman Quartet's expansive, jazzy take on Dark Star
The Grateful Dead have often been short-changed in the mainstream media, a fact that sadly reversed itself only after the passing of Jerry Garcia. Still, there are many who view the band as self-indulgent and one-dimensional. Stolen Roses: Songs of the Grateful Dead is sure to change the minds of any who are willing to listen.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2000 The Music Box