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Jerry Garcia

Warner Bros. BS 2583
Released: January 1972
Chart Peak: #35
Weeks Charted: 14

Jerry GarciaAt last. There have been rumors of Jerry Garcia's first "solo" album for many a moon and now that it has arrived, it can be seen that the wait was worthwhile. (It really isn't fair for me to do this review -- Jerry Garcia can actually do no wrong as far as I'm concerned.) Prejudices aside, Garcia is a splendid album. With a little help from Grateful Dead compatriots Robert Hunter, who writes all the lyrics and Billy Kreutzmann on drumms, plus an array of first-class albeit anonymous sidemen, Jerry romps through a selection of his own songs both singing and playing all kinds of guitar.

Garcia's voice is not big or decadent. It can't wail or scream or do any of those things that you expect a rock voice to do. Rather, it sounds folksy and even homespun -- something you expect to find attached to old Appalachian folk songs and cowboy dirges of the non-sophisticated variety. And to a certain extent, this album takes advantage of that -- especially in "Sugaree," an acid-tinged c&w ditty of the sort that the Dead and the New Riders of the Purple Sage have done to a fare-thee-well these past couple of years. All of Side One, as a matter of fact, bears more than a small resemblance to where the Dead are now, which, besides the songs' own merits, indicates how strongly Garcia has influenced the group.

Jerry Garcia - Garcia
Original album advertising art.
Click image for larger view.

And then we come to Side Two. Wheee! To say it is a reversion to the days when Garcia and the rest of the Dead were pioneering acid rock in San Francisco, is to do an injustice to the quality of the music. After all, they may have been acid, but those were also the days when the per-level was, to put it kindly, spotty. No more. The first three cuts of Side Two meld into one long evocative musical tone poem starting with a Moog and going on to Moog, piano and underdubbed (the only way to describe it) voices talking. If you listen closely, you can hear one of them saying, "We don't think so. We don't think. Don't think. Don't think." The last of the trilogy is an instrumental of rather spacey directions with what sounds like organ, steel guitar (not used in any kind of country way) and acoustic guitar. The three together are known as "Late for Supper," "Spidergawd," and "Eep Hour." The meaning of any of these titles is supremely unclear. What is clear is that Garcia has been developing musically along two totally separate and distinct paths. One is the aforementioned countryish, folk-rock style and the other is this far more progressive, experimental reaching for new modes and new ways of expression. Either way, Garcia is a superb musician.

One tiny nit-picking. Warner Bros. loses points for this album cover. While the design is freaky enough to attract Dead fans, Garcia's name does not appear on the cover, except on the pliofilm cover, which can be removed. Further, on my copy, the name was at the bottom of the picture. It's a shame to confuse would-be customers by not having his name prominently displayed at the top of the cover, the better to be seen in record bins.

But externals aside, the album rates as an all-round winner, demonstrating the many facets of Jerry Garcia's talent and showing him off to his greatest advantage.

- Penny Ross, Words & Music, 5-72.

Bonus Reviews!

One thing you have to say about Jerry Garcia -- he sure does work a lot! In fact, considering the multitude of duties which being a mainstay of the Grateful Dead and part-time guitarist with Howard Wales' group must impose on him, it's hard to imagine where Garcia found the time and energy to do this solo album. The songs, written by Jerry in collaboration with Billy Kreutzmann and Robert Hunter, are very much in the style of recent Dead compositions -- rocking country-blues numbers. Save for "Late for Supper," which is an otherworldly electronic attempt, any one of them could have been tacked onto the American Beauty package. In other words, they're not downright country as the songs on Workingman's Dead, but pretty nearly. Garcia takes his customary delight in being able to pump the pedal steel for all it's worth and sings with the sort of carefree diligence which has distinguished many a Dead outing.

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"Sugaree," straightforward and simmering from first note to last, is one of the most pleasing things Garcia's put down in years. With its repeated but never tiresome chorus, it emerges as the most compact and tantalizing tune on the LP. A close runner-up would have to be "The Wheel," in which a jubilant Robert Hunter lyric meets a thoroughly winning melody line. The major drawback to the remainder of the proceedings is the air of sameness which seems to drift in after two or three listens. Maybe Jerry has been working too much. Or -- and this is more likely -- maybe we just expected something absolutely extraordinary and feel vaguely disappointed. Garcia devotees will no doubt disagree. To them we say, "Enjoy." To others we way, "Let's wait and see which direction Garcia takes next."

- Ed Kelleher, Circus, 4-72.

Side one sounds almost too pleasant and catchy, as if Garcia and Robert Hunter -- the most consistent songwriters anywhere over the past couple of years -- had settled a little too comfortably into the slow, traditiona, blues-tinged country-rock grrove the Dead have been digging recently. The payoff is "Sugaree" and "Deal," classics no future-rocker could come up with. And then -- surprise! -- the second side balances (surprisingly unpretentious) musique concrete experimentation against the groove. B+

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

In essence, this is a Grateful Dead record, featuring as it does the band's leader/singer/guitarist, its drummer, and its lyricist. Except for the few instrumental/experimental cuts, the material has been incorporated into The Dead's concert repertoire. In fact, this is a perfect follow-up to the folk-rock song albums The Dead produced in 1970, Workingman's Dead and American Beauty -- albums the band itself has never really followed up. * * * *

- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

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