Golden Road Reviews
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Golden Road Reviews
Birth of the Dead
The Grateful Dead
Anthem of the Sun
Workingman's Dead
American Beauty
Wake of the Flood
Mars Hotel
Blues For Allah
Terrapin Station
Shakedown Street
Go to Heaven
In the Dark
Built to Last

The Golden  Road The GoldenRoad

1965 - 1973

12 Disc Warner Brother Reissue 


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The Golden Road CD reviews - Ordering

New: An essay about the Grateful Dead's interpretation of Freddie King's blues classic "Hide Away."

The Golden Road CD reviews 

Below are my reviews of the individual discs in the Golden Road box set.  They should be available individually in the not to distant future. Until then I suggest buying the box set or waiting.

Birth of the Dead
The Grateful Dead
Anthem of the Sun
Live Dead
Workingman's Dead
American Beauty
Skull and Roses
Europe 72
The History of the Grateful Dead Vol. 1 (Bear's Choice)

The Golden Road CD reviews - Birth of the Dead

Birth of the Dead  
The Grateful Dead's cd Birth of the Dead was released in the 12 cd Warner Brother reissue The Golden Road. It consists of two discs, one studio and one live. These studio tracks were recorded before they used the name The Grateful Dead. Then, they called themselves The Warlocks, Emergency Crew, etc. The CD  consists of the tracks from their Autumn, Scorpio,  and Hendricks sessions; all previously unreleased.  

The studio sessions are a great historical introduction to the band. My favorite song on the Studio Side is the blues based "Tastebud";  there are two versions of it, one with vocals and one without.   The song features PigPen playing some nice piano, and is quite a contrast to the organ tones he showers on the song "Stealin'." The Autumn sessions include an early brief version of "Caution." 

The second disc of Birth of the Dead features live performances from various dates recorded mostly in July 1966 from various venues.  The selected tracks provide a snapshot of the Grateful Dead at this early stage of their career. 

Birth of the Dead The Live Side features a pretty good version of "Viola Lee Blues,"  a song that was an early jamming vehicle for the band. An early version of Bob Dylan's "Baby Blue" is included. I much prefer the slowed down renditions that would be adopted in later years.  The 1966 style has nowhere near the emotion or dynamics that make Jerry's interpretation of Dylan's songs special. 

Certainly 1965 and 1966 are not my favorite years of Grateful Dead music. And I would not  have become a fan if they didn't transition their sound as they did.  Still, this two disc release is superbly done capturing the early studio sessions and providing a superb overview of the band live in 1966.  Except for the most die hard fans, Birth of the Dead is a comprehensive  representation of the period.  I do not plan to sell my copy at the local used music shop.  At the same time, I do not expect to play it frequently. Birth of the Dead is nice to own for historical purposes, but is not an essential CD. 

Grade - B - 

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The Golden Road CD reviews - The Grateful Dead

The Grateful Dead
The Grateful Dead's first album is an eclectic mixture of cover songs and two originals.  Much of the material  were staples of the band throughout their 30 year career such as, "Beat It On Down The Line," "Cold Rain and Snow," "Minglewood Blues," and the epic "Morning Dew."  Most of the songs were reworked into better renditions later in their career. Easily the best song from the Grateful Dead's self titled album is the cover version of Lewis' "Viola Lee Blues." 

The bonus material is superb and gives an album that otherwise has limited appeal worthy consideration.  The live version of "Viola Lee Blues" from September 3, 1967, is one of the best versions of the song I've heard.  It is from the same venue as the famous 30 + minute version of "In the Midnight Hour," that is available on Fallout From the Phil Zone. Compare this version of "Viola Lee Blues" with the version that is included on the Birth of the Dead album and you can appreciate how fast the band developed.  There are five additional studio tracks that include a killer version Reverend Gary Davis' "Death Don't Have No Mercy."   

The bonus material complements the original album exquisitely  and makes the CD warrant much consideration.  An argument could be made that the live version of "Viola Lee Blues" makes the CD worth owning leaving the other fourteen tracks as a bonus.  by Barry Small © 

Original Album - C
Bonus Material - B+
Final Grade -

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The Golden Road CD reviews - Anthem of the Sun

Anthem of the Sun
Anthem of the Sun shows the Grateful Dead vastly improved from their first album in  both in their development as musicians and songwriters.   As far as personnel they added a second drummer to the mix, Mickey Hart.    Interesting, this album is a compilation of different live performances and studio tracks meshed together.

Where their first album is primarily cover versions Anthem of the Sun is all original material.  The compositions like "New Potato Caboose," "Alligator" and the "Cryptical Envelopment" suite are complex and open ending. The songs were perfect for in concert improvisation, which is the Grateful Dead's forte. Overall the tone of Anthem of the Sun is psychedelic and is often referred to as primal Dead.  

Certainly the 1968 era of the Dead has it's fan base.  However, it is probable that if the Grateful Dead did not change their tone from a psychedelic and blues they would have been another forgotten 1960's San Francisco band.

The bonus material included on Anthem of the Sun is a perfect complement not only to this release, but to their double live CD Two From the Vault. The additions were recorded at the same venue one a day apart from this classic release.  The 30 minutes of "Alligator" > "Caution (Do not Stop  on Tracks)" is one of the best versions of the song.

For fans of Primal Dead, Anthem of the Sun is a nice addition to a collection. For fans of the song "Alligator" this album is essential.  by Barry Small © 

Original Album - C +
Bonus Material - A
Final Grade -

More about Anthem of the Sun    / order from Amazon The Golden Road CD reviews - Aoxomoxoa

This album like the two that preceded it is very psychedelic and late 1960's sounding. Though, unlike Anthem of the Sun that focused heavily upon jamming, these compositions are more song oriented. Noteworthy is that they  were all written by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter with the exception of bassist Phil Lesh assisting on "St. Stephen."

From this album only "China Cat Sunflower" survived through the years; originally this song frequently appeared in their concerts between "Dark Star" and "The Eleven."  This CD includes  "St. Stephen," the song that smartly replaced "China Cat Sunflower" as their live staple to serve as the filling between the "Dark Star" and "The Eleven."  It is a powerful piece of music rhythmically which was dropped from the repertoire shortly after Keith Godchaux joined the band. It did appear on rare occasions in the late 1970's and early '80's, but sounded best in the band's early years.  

Several of the shorter songs are more folk oriented and are a prelude as to the direction the band was evolving towards; as would be heard in their next two studio albums.   

The bonus material is a treasure. It includes three separate studio jams recorded on 8/13/68. These special compositions include the progressive "Clementine Jam," the bluesy "Nobody's Fault Jam," and the psychedelic "The Eleven Jam." 

The additions to Aoxomoxoa are one of a kind that make this album more than worthy of consideration. It is noteworthy to mention the outstanding versions of many of these songs on  Dick's Picks 26.  

Original Album - C +
Bonus Material - A
Final Grade -

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Live Dead 
What style of music is this, blues, psychedelic, exploratory, rock, improvisational, or experimental?  Perhaps it is a combination of all the above.  Live Dead is a perfect representation of the band in early 1969. The songs from Live Dead are from Jan 26, Feb. 27, and Mar. 2, 1969.  While taken from different concerts, the songs are sequenced to make it seem like it is all from one show; it certainly sounds like it. 

The "Dark Star" is quite intense, and is one of the best early versions of it, and arguably the finest. It segues into “St. Stephen” and it really builds up energy showing the bands raw power. Another high moment of the release is "The Eleven" where they continue playing with brute force intertwined with lots of heavy improvisation.  

After the intensity of the first three songs I sure needed something easier and friendly. Just what the doctor ordered, a rhythm and blues standard "Turn on Your Lovelight." Typical of the times, this rendition gets the Pig Pen rap showcase.  Still to come is another blues song Reverend Gary Davis’, "Death Don't Have No Mercy," that is sung by Jerry Garcia and features lightning fast lead guitar playing.    Live Dead is rounded out with "Feedback", and an early immature rendition of "We Bid You Good Night"  

 Certainly both the sound quality and performances on Live Dead is top notch. If you like the Grateful Dead you need this CD.  

Included as bonus material with The Golden Road reissue is the single version of
"Dark Star" and a Radio spot.  Because the bonus material is minimal I did not grade it, though it is nice.  

Original Album - A +
Bonus Material - n/a
Final Grade -
A +

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Workingman Dead 
Workingman's Dead is one the finest studio albums that the Grateful Dead ever recorded.  They began to lose some of their psychedelic tone on this album.  Incredibly, Workingman's Dead perfectly blends blues, folk, country, and rock in a very unique way.  

This album includes eight superb compositions.  Like Aoxomoxoa, the songs were mostly written by Garcia and Hunter.  Several songs make great campfire sing a long such as "Uncle Johns Band" and "Black Peter."  Phil Lesh helped pen the Country flavored "Cumberland Blues,"  a song which showed their efforts to focus on vocal harmonies. 

The bonus tracks included on Workingman's Dead may not be the best from the Golden Road  box set, but they are my favorite.  The rendition of "Dire Wolf" is interesting to hear; it was the fifth time that it was performed and it features Bob Weir rather than Jerry Garcia on lead vocals.   The rendition of "Black Peter" is sensational.  At this stage of the songs development it does not have the dynamics that evolved through the years, but it drips with emotion, energy, and a blazing guitar solo. The following song, Robert Hunter's "Easy Wind," featuring Pig Pen on vocals, is the best track on the CD.  During the instrumental the band take their time building their peak that ends with explosive authority, yeah.

The Grateful Dead's CD Workingman's Dead is an essential release.  My only negative criticism is including the single version of "Truckin'"  as track 11 which is right after the original albums version. Two versions of the same song can be redundant if you are not close to the remote control. It would have fit much better as either the last song on the disc or as a hidden track.  

Original Album - A -
Bonus Material - A 
Final Grade -

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The Golden Road CD reviews - American Beauty - Buy

American Beauty  
American Beauty is the third consecutive album dominated by Garcia and Hunter compositions.  There were however several key contributions from other band members such as Lesh on  "Box of Rain," from Weir on "Sugar Magnolia,"  and from PigPen on "Operator."  This album was released only six months after Workingman's Dead and has similar tone, though, it has less of a blues influence and more of a country and vocal emphasis. It also features Jerry Garcia on pedal steel guitar on several tracks and mandolin extraordinaire, David Grisman helps out on "Ripple" and "Friend of the Devil." 

The bonus material includes several rare and beautifully played live versions of these classics songs in their infancy.  There are also single versions of  "Truckin'" and "Ripple (hidden track)."

American Beauty was an essential album before the bonus tracks.  With the addition of six additional songs the recommendation is that much stronger. 

Original Album - A
Bonus Material - A
Final Grade -

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The Golden Road CD reviews - Skull and Roses - The Grateful Dead

Skull and Roses  
The Grateful Dead’s Skull and Roses CD captures the bands sound as they were transitioning from their early psychedelic/blues sound to a rock/country/folk tone.  While the music was recorded live it primarily features material that had not yet been released, with the exception of “The Other One.” The album was released in 1971 shortly after the songs were performed.  Because the band didn't record any studio albums for a number  of years at this point, this served as a substitute for a studio album. The biggest surprise on Skull and Roses is that it includes only one song that Pig Pen takes the lead on, Willie Dixon’s “Big Boss Man.” 

Predictably, the performances include both original and cover songs and it is split between short songs and jamming songs.  My favorite part of this CD are the versions “Wharf Rat” and “Not Fade Away” > “Going Down The Road Feeling Bad” > “Not Fade Away,” a staple for the band in 1971. Others may prefer the spacey jamming in, “The Other One.” 

As for the short songs you get a mix of rock, “Bertha” and “Johnny B. Goode,” country, “Mama Tried,” Me and Bobby McGee,” and “Me and My Uncle,” and blues, “Big Boss Man” and “Big Railroad Blues.” 

The wasn't much room for bonus tracks. They did manage to include two rare cover versions from their April 6 performance at the Manhattan Center.  First up is  one of only two performance of "Oh, Boy!." Second is "I'm a Hog for You" a song that hadn't been performed since 1966.

All in all Skull and Roses is a very good representation of the band during 1971 and a good value as it is packed with music. Much of it was recorded during the same time as their four CD release Ladies and Gentlemen, however, this is a complement not a substitute for that. by Barry Small © 

Original Album - B - 
Bonus Material - B
Final Grade -
B - 

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The Golden Road CD reviews - Buting Europe '72

Europe '72
Europe ’72 is the first Grateful Dead CD (album) that I bought and I still love it.  This tour began on April 7 and ended on May 26 with 22 performances.  It includes many of their classic original songs that never were released on any of their studio CD's that include: “Tennessee Jed,” “Jack Straw,” “Brown Eyed Women,” “Ramble on Rose,” and “He’s Gone.” These songs have remained in the Grateful Dead’s concert rotation till their final days in 1995.  

Europe ’72 is the first recording to feature keyboard player Keith Godchaux. Pig Pen is still in the band at this time and he contributes with two blues covers “Mr. Charlie” and “Hurts Me Too.” Jerry Garcia’s challenges Pig Pen by singing lead on a blues number, Elmore James’ “It Hurts Me Too.” On it Keith really hits some great riffs that shows his versatility. Keith also makes his presence known on  “Cumberland Blues.” 

The meat of this release is the “Truckin'” > “Epilogue” > “Prelude” > “Morning Dew.” After the "Truckin’" the band catches fire on a melody and they get into a nice groove that features hints of  “The Other One,” without ever going there. The jam eventually settles into one of the better versions of “Morning Dew” of 1972. 

The bonus material from Europe '72 include some real treasures and rarities. It represented the first official release of Pig Pen's "The Stranger (Two Souls in Communion)," though, subsequently another version was released on Steppin' Out With the Grateful Dead.  The version of "Looks Like Rain" is an early version that features Garcia playing pedal steel guitar. In addition to the above short compositions there is also a big jam closing out disc 2.  That jam is the only version of "Good Lovin'" that features PigPen and Keith Godchaux that has "Caution" and more sandwiched within. 

There is a lot of competition among the 1972 Grateful Dead releases and Europe ’72 deserves heavy consideration. 

Original Album - A - 
Bonus Material - A -
Final Grade -
A - 

With the addition of the bonus material some of the tracks that were previously on disc 2 were moved to disc one to accommodate the smartly chosen track additions.   The songs are " Sugar Magnolia," " Mr. Charlie," and " Tennessee Jed." 

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The Golden Road CD reviews - Buy The History of the Grateful Dead - Bear's Choice

Bear's Choice
This music on Bear’s Choice was recorded February 13 – 14 1970; the same dates as Dick’s Picks Volume 4, that was released in March 1996, though it includes different material. The title of this CD is officially named History of the Grateful Dead, Vol. 1 (Bear’s Choice), though, most fans refer to the name simply as Bear's Choice. The first five songs are acoustic and last two are electric. If you are a big Pig Pen fan this is a must have as he is featured on both of the electric songs and several of the acoustic songs. 

The two electric songs are stunning. The version of Howling' Wolf's  "Smokestack Lightnin'" is about as good as this song gets.  The jam includes an awesome tease of "New Speedway Boogie" throughout and some outstanding Garcia soloing.  

The bonus material includes four essential Pig Pen led cover songs.  Another version of "Smokestack Lightnin'" is included.  While it is marvelous in it's own way, it doesn't quite match the February 13 version from the original release.  

For the most part Bear’s Choice is an unofficial tribute album to the late Pig Pen.  His real name is Ron McKernan and he passed away on March 8, 1973, at the age of 27 of liver disease.  This album is a perfect complement to Dick’s Picks Volume 4 and is a huge treat for Pig Pen fans.  by Barry Small © 

Original Album - B
Bonus Material - B
Final Grade -

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The Golden Road CD reviews - Discography