Music: Dead again

from Pacific Sun

by Greg Cahill

Talk about making a 180.

After four albums of exploratory psychedelia, the Grateful Dead in 1970 tapped their inner Buck Owens, dipping into their country and bluegrass roots for a pair of acoustic-oriented albums that remain among their best: the bluesy Workingman’s Dead and its more textured companion, American Beauty.

The albums—driven by high lonesome vocal harmonies, mandolins, banjos and Jerry Garcia’s newfound love affair with the pedal-steel guitar—signaled the increasing influence of songwriter Robert Hunter.

The consecutively released LPs would bring the Marin-based band into the musical mainstream. Songs such as “Uncle John’s Band” and “Casey Jones,” from Workingman’s Dead, and “Truckin'” and “Ripple,” from American Beauty, garnered extensive radio airplay and pushed album sales into platinum territory.

“Ripple” remains a bluegrass standard, widely recorded and performed on front porches around the world.

The albums proved to be a high-water mark for the band.

“Never again would [the Grateful Dead] be so musically focused or so emotionally direct,” reviewer Jason Ankeny noted in his All Music Guide review.

On Saturday, June 7, Dead On Live will make its West Coast debut at the Sweetwater Music Hall with note-for-note recreations of Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty.

The show, appropriately a venue owned by Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir, will be held 10 days before the 44th anniversary of the release of Workingman’s Dead.

Multi-instrumentalist Marc Muller, whose recording credits include contributions to Bruce Springsteen’s 2012 album Wrecking Ball and nine years with country star Shania Twain, will serve as music director.

The band’s weeklong West Coast tour concludes Saturday, June 14, with an appearance at the Blue Rose Ball Benefit at the Sebastiani Theater on Sonoma Plaza. The ball is a benefit for the newly created Joseph Capone Scholarship Fund at the Old Adobe School in Sonoma.

Also performing are guitarists Steve Forbert and Mark Karan, folk singer Josh Joplin, and fiddle phenom Jason Crosby, among others.