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Blues For Allah
Grateful Dead

Grateful Dead GD-LA494-G
Released: August 1975
Chart Peak: #12
Weeks Charted: 13

Blues for Allah contains quite a few surprises, some pleasant (Mickey Hart's reappearance; most of side one) and some embarrasing (most of side two), but at least the Grateful Dead have begun to awaken from the artistic coma they've been in since 1971. With their self-owned-and-operated record company fantasies biting the dust due to financially trying times and some decidedly uninteresting releases, the Dead have handed their distribution over to United Artists. They've also abandoned their tired philosophical stetsons and Old West daydreams in search of new frontiers. And though, on the basis of this record, one can't be totally convinced that it's better late than never, still, it's a good try.

All of side one, with the exception of the final track, Bob Weir's ill-placed and tedious "The Music Stopped" (yet another "Playing in the Band" variation), works beautifully. It starts with the sad-eyed optimism of "Help on the Way," Garcia in fine form both vocally and on lead guitar, then flows into the instrumental "Slipknot!" with stellar playing by the entire band, waxes jaunty with the happy, bouncing "Franklin's Tower" and swings deftly through Latin-flavored, free-form connecting instrumentals, "King Solomon's Marbles" and "Stronger than Dirt or Milkin' the Turkey." The total effect is close to the Grateful Dead as they used to be, circe '68-'70.

Grateful Dead - Blues For Allah
Original album advertising art.
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To ignore the presence of Mickey Hart on drums and percussion is a faillure to realize how much he's been missed by the Dead since his departure after American Beauty. Just why he is the catalyst I'm not quite sure, but when he's adding cowbells, triangles, chimes, bells or a second set of drums, everyone seems to wake up, and Garcia, Lesh, Weir, Kreutzmann and Godchaux romp through side one with neat time changes and interesting jams.

Side two, unfortunately, is a total washout, even if the lenghty suite "Blues for Allah/Sand Castles & Glass Camels/Unusual Occurences in the Desert" does shift the band geographically from the Western Plains to the Sahara. Nevertheless, one good side of the Grateful Dead is more good Grateful Dead than I've heard since American Beauty. Keep your fingers crossed.

- Billy Altman, Rolling Stone, 10/9/75.

Bonus Reviews!

First UA distributed set for the legendary band is a mix of shorter, more commercial material than the group has done in the past and the long, rambling yet coherent sort of thing we are used to hearing from them. Jerry Garcia's distinctive, almost slurring voice highlights side one along with his always excellent guitar work (both rock and jazz oriented, with the usual blues tinge). Vocals are a bit fuller with Donna Godchaux taking a major part and the Dead harmonies of Garcia, Lesh, Weir and Keith Godchaux working well. No radical departures form the past, which will please longtime fans. But younger, more Top 40 oriented buyers should also be attracted from the material on the first side. Best cuts: "Help Do The Way," "Franklin's Tower," "The Music Never Stopped," all of side two, which seems to run together and is ideal for FM play.

- Billboard, 1975.

I've been hypersensitive to this band's virtues for years. This time I find the arch aimlessness of their musical approach neurasthenic and their general muddle-headedness worthy of Yes or the Strawbs. C-

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

Opening with the suite that has become a concert favorite, "Help on the Way"/"Slip Knot!"/"Franklin's Tower," and also containing the anthemic "The Music Never Stopped," Blues for Allah is another Grateful Dead album containing a few band classics and a lot of filler. Note, however, that some fans seem to like the filler. In its survey of Deadheads, DeadBase found Blues for Allah to be the band's most popular studio album after Workingman's Dead and American Beauty. * * * *

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

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