The Very Best Of Jerry Garcia
Jerry Garcia’s activities outside of the Grateful Dead are well documented and all-encompassing. The amount of recording and playing he did as a solo artist, as well as with the Jerry Garcia Band, Legion of Mary, New Riders Of The Purple Sage, Reconstruction, Old And In The Way, David Grisman, and countless other one-off, one-time collaborations is unparallel in its depth and perspective. To gather all this material together and call it a “best of” would require several volumes and cooperation amongst more participants and stakeholders than anyone probably remembers. In an effort to be comprehensive, yet concise, Rhino has slapped a 2-CD set together and dubbed it with the ever effective and direct title of The Very Best Of Jerry Garcia. All in all, this collection does an admirable job of covering a fairly wide cross-section of Garcia tunes, without skipping over too much relevant ground.
The first disc rolls out a big chunk from the brilliant Garcia album from 1972. A rock and dense album that also featured Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann, it contained many songs that found their way into the Dead’s regular rotation and onto this set — “Deal,” “Bird Song” “Sugaree,” Loser” and “The Wheel.” From there, it’s a trip through Garcia’s subsequent solo albums — 1974’s Complements (“Let It Rock,” “Russian Lullaby”) and 1976’s Reflections (“Might As Well,” “Mission In The Rain,” “I’ll Take A Melody”). As if there was much difference between his solo records and the albums he made with the Jerry Garcia Band (which included only one other constant John Kahn), Cats Under The Stars and Run For the Roses also receive a scrubbing, but seem under nourished when compared to Garcia’s earlier musings as a solo artist.
The cream of the crop falls into place on the second disc, an assortment of live performances. It was on the stage where the magic generally flowed for Garcia and the ten selections here offer a proper and accurate verification of that indisputable fact. The hootenanny gets under way with Garcia’s bluegrass side project Old And In The Way and a snappy rave-up of “Catfish John.” The Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band takes the reins with “Deep Elem Blues” and “Ripple,” before the Jerry Garcia Band, in its various incarnation, devours the rest of the disc with solid slayings of Jimmy Cliff’s “The Harder They Come” and “Gomorrah,” among others. A stand-out is a previously unreleased performance of the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence” with the short-lived, experimental funkified unit affectionately known as Reconstruction. Tossed in with a ceaseless stream of live albums, anthologies, and collaborations, The Very Best Of Jerry Garcia may not be bear the definitive stamp of the late Captain Trip’s diverse legacy, but if you're looking for an easy-to-grasp retrospective, you needn’t delve any further.
~ Shawn Perry