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Various Artists – Day Of The Dead

June 25, 2016

This is a Grateful Dead tribute album and fund-raiser for HIV\AIDS (Red Hot). I don’t think of myself as much of a Grateful Dead fan, however after listening to this compilation I realized I am pretty familiar with their catalog.  I am a pretty big Jerry Garcia fan and I have most of his solo albums and his side projects. So I certainly respect the Dead and their legacy.

This collection was organized/curated/produced by The National’s Aaron and Bryce Dessner. Based on my taste I should be a National’s fan. But some how they have never resonated with me. This collection has got me curious about revisiting their work.

I saw a while back that Aaron and Bryce Dessner were producing this collection and for reasons I don’t understand – the idea of the collection caught my attention. I was watching for it and checked it out on Spotify when it was released. Listening to the first few cuts I was sold.  The goal of an album like this is to raise money, but from an artistic sense it is to honor the original songs and expose listeners to songs and artist they are not familiar with.  This collection hits it out of the park.

There are too many songs (59) and featured artists (60) to give a full review – or even summarize. I will focus on single track as a proxy for the rest of the album: “Terrapin Station (Suite).”  The original album’s (one of the few Dead LPs I actually own – l bought it because I liked the cover)  titular track (it was originally called “Terrapin Station Medley”) is a full side (little over 16 minutes).  The LP never resonated with me.  But hearing the Day Of The Dead cover showed me what a great song it is.  I returned to the original and was struck by how ambitious it is – almost prog – almost jazz rock fusion.  The original now sounds amazing to me.

Back to the cover. Daniel Rossen and Christopher Bear of Grizzly Bear team up with The National to make an equally ambitious cover.  It starts out faithful to the original but then goes its own way.  My idea of a great cover is that it both faithful and reinvents the original – this version pulls off that contradiction.

“Terrapin Station (Suite)” is pretty representative of what this album is all about.  There are the Dead’s greatest hits and obscurities.  Most of the featured artists come from alt-country/Americana , but there are also a smattering of other genres too.   About half of the artists were familiar to me – enough to draw me in – and enough talent that is new to me to delight my sense of discovery.  Tribute albums are a great way to discover new talent.  For example after listening to “Terrapin Station (Suite)” I am motivated to check out both The National and Grizzly Bear.  This is an absolutely delightful collection and will be on my best of 2016 for sure.


From → Music Reviews

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