CD reviews: The Dead keeps on truckin’ | AspenTimes.com

CD reviews: The Dead keeps on truckin’

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

Aspen Times fileThe latest release from the archives of the Grateful Dead, which included late guitarist Jerry Garcia, is "Dave's Picks, Vol. 2," a live recording from 1974.

produced by Grateful Dead (Rhino)The Grateful Dead’s product arm keeps on trucking, 17 years after the death of Jerry Garcia, who would have turned 70 on Aug. 1. The latest series, Dave’s Picks, named for archivist David Lemieux, got off to a slow start with Vol. 1, a surprisingly ho-hum show from the generally awesome spring tour of 1977.Oh, but how Dave and the Dead hit their stride here. In mid-’74, the Dead were playing long – “Dave’s Picks, Vol. 2” is three discs, 28 songs plus a few instrumental jams – and extremely well. Garcia lights up the Johnny Cash cover “Big River” with a magnificent solo; behind his wall of notes, you can hear keyboardist Keith Godchaux cooking. Disc three is the main event, opening with a rarity (the sweet, gospel-like “To Lay Me Down”), moving into possibly the most powerful and inventive version ever of the well-known road anthem “Truckin’,” flowing into back-to-back instrumental interludes and settling gracefully into the ballad “Wharf Rat.”As the Blair Jackson essay in the package here observes, this show came at a low-water mark for America. Nine days later, Richard Nixon would resign the presidency in shame. And here were the Dead, playing their unique take on quintessentially American music (including the impish “U.S. Blues,” which was a minor radio hit at the time).

produced by Mark Knopfler (Proper American)Bap Kennedy’s latest album is released on the label, Proper American. He plays a style that falls squarely into the Americana genre – a base of acoustic guitar, some fiddle, some lap steel. He’s got heroes of Americana, including dobro giant Jerry Douglas and Glenn Worf, a top Nashville bassist, backing him.But Kennedy is, in fact, an Irishman, born in Belfast 50 years ago, and still based on the other side of the ocean. “The Sailor’s Revenge” features touches of Irish – a bit of Irish fiddling, some pipes and whistles, the closing track titled “Celtic Sea.” But Kennedy sounds more like an American balladeer who has adapted Irish influences than the other way around – an American can understand every word from his clear, relaxed voice – and “The Sailor’s Revenge” fits comfortably in with the first-rank American singer-songwriters.

produced by Martin & Blades (Royal Potato Family)As drummer of Medeski, Martin & Wood, Billy Martin has gone to the depths and heights in examining the possibilities of the organ trio. Martin hasn’t given up on the trio format; MMW has an archival album, “Free Magic,” culled from its first-ever acoustic tour, in 2007, due out next month, with a short acoustic tour, its second, to follow.But here Martin strips things down; “Shimmy” is a duo, with only Wil Blades joining in. But Blades, a 30-something San Franciscan, works serious voodoo on the organ and clavinet. One might have hoped that the music here would step farther afield from MMW’s organ trio sound. It doesn’t. But at the same time, you can’t help but be impressed how you barely miss the fact that the instrumentation has been reduced by a full 33 percent compared to MMW, and the groove is just as thick, deep and wide.stewart@aspentimes.com