Jerry Garcia/ David Grisman – Acoustic Disc (1991) /Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs 2015 – stereo-only SACD, 58:14 ****1/2:
(Jerry Garcia – guitar, vocals; David Grisman – mandolin; Jim Kerwin – bass; Joe Craven – fiddle, percussion)
It is impossible to summarize Jerry Garcia and his musical impact. As the co-founder of the truly American band, The Grateful Dead, he was a hero to his adoring fans. The Dead didn’t have fans, they had legions that quit their jobs and followed them on tours. Despite several acclaimed studio albums, the group became legends on stage. They permitted anyone to tape their shows and the resultant bootleg catalog was part of rock history. The sometimes four or even five hour shows featured extended spacey jamming and good hard-rockin’ songs. It was an event, not merely a concert. They epitomized the San Francisco music scene for thirty years, and continued to tour regularly until Garcia’s death in 1995.
Part of Jerry Garcia’s mojo was his appreciation for several musical genres including blues, rock, bluegrass, jazz and old time rock and roll. It wasn’t unusual for a jazz artist like Miles Davis to tour with The Dead. Additionally, Garcia released numerous solo projects, including his own band and a memorable collaboration with jazz star Merle Saunders. Garcia found a kindred spirit in mandolin virtuoso David Grisman. Grisman became a rising bluegrass artist in the sixties and seventies with his own band and studio work (with The Grateful Dead and Bonnie Raitt). His New Acoustic Music (labeled by some as “Dawg” music) helped to redefine bluegrass. Having relocated to the Bay Area in the sixties, it was no surprise he crossed paths with Jerry Garcia.
In describing Jerry Garcia/David Grisman, it is a weird alchemy of acoustic bluegrass and Southern folk blues. Regardless, of the categorical vagueness, these two players have plenty of chemistry. Their instrumental vision is apparent from the opening strains of “The Thrill Is Gone”. Long known as a gut-wrenching blues torch song, the duo smartly does not try to emulate B.B. King. With a bass and percussion framework, Garcia and Grisman flat out pick with gleeful abandon. Garcia’s creaky vocals fit this type of jam. His guitar solo is deft and assured. Grisman does what he always does, play with virtuosic intensity. They transform the material. With equal nimbleness, the duo ignites “Grateful Dawg” with bluegrass swing. Each contributes to the energy of the composition. Bassist Jim Kerwin is featured in a transition. Grisman and Garcia complement each other with deft acuity.
Exploring Americana roots, “Two Soldiers” is a rueful Civil War narrative of loss. With a simpler arrangement, the fabric of this genre-specific song is established. On a Grisman original, “Dawg Waltz”, they explore the ¾ time signature in classic style. Fiddler Joe Craven contributes some tasty licks as well. A welcome addition is the laconic version of “Rockin’ Chair”. Garcia and Grisman shine on the slower tempo jam. It is casual (quintessential Carmichael), but focused and evocative. It’s as good a cover of this song as any. The connective elements from Deep Southern blues and Celtic themes are rendered lyrically on “Walking Boss”. At approximately 3:24 there is a brilliant interchange between the two players.
Grateful Dead fans can rejoice. There is a staple from the Garcia Hunter songbook. “Friend Of The Devil” conforms to fit the album aesthetics, but still manages to reflect the loping infectious nature that has made this song endure for such a long time. Grisman’s agility and fluency on mandolin is overwhelming. Even those who are not fans of Garcia’s weathered voice will appreciate his delivery. Another festive celebration is Irving Berlin’s “Russian Lullaby” with its gypsy-like jauntiness. Escaping from the previous structures, the finale, “Arabia” demonstrates graceful elegance with worldly melodic variations and a near-tango vibe. The ending features another Grisman mesmerizing solo, with Garcia’s punctuated rhythmic counters.
The re-mastering to SACD is flawless. The tonality of mandolin and guitar is crisp and detailed. The overall sound has a fluid glow and a fuller studio mix. Jerry Garcia/David Grisman was a very good album in 1991. With Mofi’s updated Gain 2 System technology, it is unforgettable!
TrackList: The Thrill Is Gone; Grateful Dawg; Two Soldiers; Friend Of The Devil; Russian Lullaby; Dawg’s Waltz; Walkin’ Boss; Rockin’ Chair; Arabia