The Grateful Dead have had quite the renaissance over the last year. The original members of the band, minus leader Jerry Garcia who passed away in 1995, reunited for a stretch of shows that culminated in Fare Thee Well, a return to Chicago’s Soldier Field, the site of their previous final show 20 years ago. Some of those members then recruited John Mayer to lead a Dead and Co. tour to spread the Dead around the country while it’s hot.
Now, members of The National have organized and produced an amazing collection of covers by some of the leading indie artists of today, spanning 59 tracks and 5 1/2 hours of music, all benefitting the Red Hot Organization. While it sounds like a ton of music (and there are definitely some deeper cuts), the Dead of course had a bottomless catalog of music. In that sense, the release serves as a great tribute and introduction to the Dead, if people aren’t familiar by now.
The most impressive thing about this collection is how each artist truly makes their assigned song their own. Renditions from album house band The National, The War On Drugs, Lucius, Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Courtney Barnett are so close to their own styles that they could be mistaken for tracks from their respective new records. The Grateful Dead was all about experimentation and re-interpretation, and the artists chosen to contribute certainly took that to heart, blending their own sounds with classic Dead noodling and harmonies. Because of this, the album wanders wildly between soft and loud, jamming and straightforward – all really fascinating to hear.
But the really great touches are when the bands stick closest to the source material, most notably with The National performing “I Know You Rider” with founding Dead member Bob Weir to close out the release. Other artists like The Tallest Man on Earth, Moses Sumney with Jenny Lewis, The Lone Bellow, Charles Bradley and the Menahan Street Band, Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, and Kurt Vile (among many others) also give efforts true to the originals that speaks to the influence of the Dead, whether or not these modern folk, rock, or pop artists were huge fans of the band growing up. The influence also goes beyond “sound” – it reaches into (from an outsider’s perspective) the underrated guitar dexterity of Jerry Garcia and the interplay between instruments that was evident in all of their music.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4paT-FtAHzU
Day Of The Dead is a pretty miraculous effort pieced together by Aaron and Bryce Dessner. There is an undeniable stigma associated with enjoying the Dead, and I think this compilation succeeds in showing the incredibly musicality and songwriting influence not only on “jam band” music, but on music in general. Both longtime fans of The Grateful Dead and newcomers, possibly attracted by the indie names included, will be equally pleased.
Various Artists | 4AD