GRATEFUL DEAD RETURN; NEW SOUNDS - OLD STYLE
Those of you who have seen the Dead recently know that they are into a straight hard rock thing. This is a reversion to their early sound, and up until now the best representation of the group has been on a live album made in 1966 (Vintage Dead, Sunflower records). The Dead's current style has alienated a lot of their old fans from the period when they were into long improvisationals filtered through a lot of acid and general flower punk mysticism.
It seems that sometime between the release of Live Dead and Workingman's Dead, Garcia and his boys got turned onto beer and steel guitars; it was a great gimmick for Workingman's Dead, and the image of the group as post psychedelic era rednecks served as a decent vehicle for Jerry Garcia's steel guitar and Bob Weir's background tomes...unfortunately the boys took it to heart and recorded an album full of bucolic whimsy called American Beauty. American Beauty did and still does sound like out takes from Workingman's Dead.
These days Jerry Garcia has his spin-off group, New Riders of the Purple Sage, as an outlet for his pickin' and grinnin', and Bob Weir has been listening to old R&B 45's. The result is on the group's new album, Grateful Dead, which is such a reminiscence trip it's enough to scare you off. (The title and personnel are the same as their first disc, and the cover is a reproduction [of a] 1966 Avalon Ballroom poster.)
Instead of just a memory exercise, the new Dead album is a logical extension of everything they have done, well...you see, there's a few long improvisations, and there's easy to take folksy stuff for all the new fans...and then by the time the second album in the double set comes on and things start to drag, Jerry Garcia hits a damn familiar riff and jesus christ if the whole band doesn't play the hardest sounding Johnny B Goode since the Steve Miller Band backed up Chuck Berry in 67...things go uphill from then on, and it sounds better the second time.
The album should be titled The Grateful Dead Play Hard Rock...and they play it as good as anyone else. The new Dead album and the Allman Brothers' live album are the only two indispensable sets I've heard yet this year, no doubt about it, everyone has to hear them once.
(by Charles Eschweiler, from the Behrend Collegian, 7 October 1971)
See also other reviews of the album: