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Album Review: ‘The Very Best of Jerry Garcia’

To start off, I’m not what you call a Deadhead. Just to give you an idea of how completely out of the loop I am, I didn’t even know that Jerry Garcia had such an extensive solo discography. So this two-disc best of came off as quite a surprise, but I instantly loved what I heard.

Disc one is entitled Studio Recordings, and it covers all five of Garcia’s solo endeavours. For new listeners these recordings are vital to understanding Garcia’s legacy. Deadheads probably own all these essential tracks, but there’s more for them later. Disc one opens with three countrified rock tracks (“Deal,” “Bird Song,” and “Sugaree”) all have the same sauntering beat, and I can’t help but feel I’ve heard these songs somewhere before. Other highlights include, “Let It Rock” (which starts off with a eerie train-horn as the band rests on a funky back beat), “Russian Lullaby” (begins with some beautiful guitar plucking, ending in some rambunctious old-time jazz), and Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heavens Door” is transformed with a smooth reggae beat.

The Grateful Dead were always known for their wild live shows, and Garcia’s solo work is not an exception. Disc two is entitled Live Recordings, and it’s the best part of this collection, as it showcases Garcia’s love for blues, rock, jazz, and even grassroots music. Also, disc two is not put in chronological order, and what I love about this track listing is that is best showcases how transcendant Garcia’s work is. Opening with a wild, 1973 performance of “Catfish John” (featuring Garcia’s grassroots band Old & in the Way), track two jumps ahead 14 years to his band wailing on another grassroots fuelled track, “Deep Elem Blues.” Two other tracks that Garcia re-invents are Bob Dylan’s “Positively 4th Street” (which becomes a ten-minute epic), and an unreleased track of an electrifying, 11-minute performance of the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence.”

Overall, fans will love this well thought out collection of essential tracks, and is the perfect place to start for the uninitiated.

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