When it comes to music of it’s kind American Beauty is undoubtedly a classic and in my opinion, close to perfection. This is the album that got me into Grateful Dead, and it was a great place to start. It will always have a special place for being my gateway to their stuff, but it also stands up as a solid LP with or without nostalgia.
Box of Rain was sung as well as composed by bassist Phil Lesh. This was Phil’s first shot in the spotlight, and I love his vocal performance bouncing between a naked melody and the warm and rich harmonies supplied by the other members. It’s a great track and while the lyrics and tone are based on Lesh’s dying father, it really gets me in the mood to relax and enjoy life as the bittersweet experience that it is. The lyrics put it best, there is such a “long long time to be gone and a short time to be there”.
Friend of the Devil is a classic Dead song and for good reason. It has up-tempo dual melodies on the strings and fun lyrics about an outlaw on the run from the cops and the devil. A five star in my opinion.
Sugar Magnolia is another of their best known and well loved tracks, and is apparently their second most played song in concert. The song is great on the album, but as good as it is I have to say I love the way they did it live. Especially some of the 80’s balls-to-the-wall rockin’ versions of the tune.
Operator is a short little country blues kind of song sung by Pigpen, the proclaimed blues man of the group. This one isn’t really a highlight in my eyes. I usually like blues and it’s raw emotion filling in the gaps in technical proficiency, but this seems to be the reverse. The music is flawless while his vocals are void of life. While it is far from a bad song, it is a slight bump in the road when compared to the giants that appear on this record.
Candyman has been described as “eerie and sly” and I’d say that’s a fairly accurate description. Jerry Garcia is the man, and this song, while a bit slow calm, loses none of the catchy-ness makes me want to sing every time I hear the hook come around. We’re back on track, folks.
Ripple is one of the most beautiful acoustic songs out there. It has some sturdy simple guitar that get’s build upon by other instrumentation like a mandolin part by David Grisman. I will say it seems a bit like a church song, which is a turnoff, but there is so much to like about this song I can’t hold that against it.
Brokedown Palace is one that slipped past me the first few listen throughs, but has come to be one of my favorites on the record. It is a great conclusion to Ripple as it feels to build on the same vibes as the previous song and should always be played together for full effect as it gives the song an almost coda feeling. Beautiful piano, and who doesn’t like that?
Till the Morning Comes is a bit of a switch from the acoustic folk we’ve spent the last half hour listening to and takes us on a ride through an upbeat electric guitar jaunt. It has great harmonies in it’s entirety and is more of a poppy rock song through the bands psychedelic filter. A great track to add some dynamics to the record.
Attics of My Life is definitely the weakest track in my opinion. It very slow and comes off as very sterile and watered down, even with the harmonies. I’m sure it’s an alright song to trip out to, but it comes off as bland and boring.
Truckin’ is last and what a way to go out. Truckin’ is a shuffling blues rock number that uses tour misadventures as a metaphor for life and it’s constant changes and curve-balls. It is probably the most well known Grateful Dead song and is even considered a United States national treasure. A heavily edited version was released as a single and broke the charts, staying at number 64 for eight weeks. It would take 17 years before the band saw a better charting song in Touch of Grey, but that’s a blog for another day.
Look for more classic album talk coming soon, as well as some new metal reviews, Nerd Life gaming and more
As always, RESPECT THE VEST!