Saturday, 18 July 2015

NOSTALGIA CORNER: Grateful Dead-American Beauty

Alternative chief Ryan Sweeney takes a look back at a classic album in his new series The Nostalgia Corner. This week, in honour of their recent farewell tour, Ryan shares his thoughts and feelings on the Grateful Dead and the legacy of their standout studio LP American Beauty.

Welcome to what I'm going to call The Nostalgia Corner, I decided that if I'm going to do classic album's I might as well make it a little more formal and give it a name, so from now on all classics reviewed by me will be given this heading. Now that the formalities are out of the way, let's take a look at The Grateful Dead and my favorite of their work; American Beauty.

The Grateful Dead are one of the most influential and recognizable bands in American music history, psychedelic rock, folk, Americana, bluegrass, jazz, reggae, nothing ever quite seemed the limit with these guys and their live performances, whilst often bloated and odd, gave birth to the very concept of the jam band and long instrumental intro's. However, as of last night the band officially called it quits on their 50 year career following a string of sold out farewell concerts. This has lead me to ponder several things: does the music still stand up? Does the music still have anything to offer? Are they as important as many from the time would have us to believe?

13 Studio albums, 10 live albums and over 50 retrospectives, no one has been quite as prolific as The Grateful Dead in their career that spans over 50 years and over a dozen members. Starting out as one of the major players in the 1960s San Francisco psychedelic rock scene with peers such as Big Brother and the Holding Company and Jefferson Airplane, they quickly established themselves as one of the most interesting and diverse touring acts the scene had to offer, with their long winded jam sessions, jazz breakdowns and instrumentals taking up the vast majority of their live set they garnered a loyal fan base out of the thriving hippie movement of the era that would follow them throughout the rest of their career. Seriously guys, "Deadheads" are some of the loyalist fans I've ever seen and it's this devotion from the fans, their devotion to the art of the live performance as well as classic studio LPs such as American Beauty and Anthem of the Sun that have allowed them to become a cultural mainstay across America throughout their career,

American Beauty, the band's 6th album, was released in the November of 1970. It is a great album without a doubt; it perfectly blends Americana folk, bluegrass and psychedelic guitar licks that few albums have ever been able to. A masterclass of songwriting and delivery, you only need to listen to the first track Box of Rain to work out this track is a great opener, the song is chugged along by a great rhythm section (drums, bass and acoustic guitar) that all feel great to listen to and keep the pace for the rest of the track, which includes really subtle but masterful electric guitar licks from David Nelson and these great vocals from Phil Lesh that are astounding. They are seriously great, I love them and the little Beatles-esque harmonies every now and then sound awesome if a little off key. This album shows the bands incredible range and musicality with tracks like Sugar Magnolia, Candyman and Brokedown Palace that all manage to capture the the stylistic influences of the band and meld them together without ever missing a beat as well as still allowing the band to put their psychedelic and jam band style twist on them, which is an incredibly difficult thing to do. I know many a band that has been unsuccessful at trying to do this, but this is a great example of how it can work and I feel that bands can learn from it. An unfortunate downside to this album however; it does sound a little dated. It's low cost production and some of the almost rockabilly nature of some of the songs have not helped the album. Having listened to both the original and the remastered edition I can say that the remastered edition is noticeably clearer and some of the mix issues of the original are solved, however like I said, the issues lay a lot in the style. While all the folk/bluegrass style songs do still sound great, the style of the classic rock/rockabilly just feels old and dated, taking away a little from the overall experience. Does this album deserve the praise it has garnered? I think it's a great album, I really like it and I can see why it has such critical acclaim. Does the album have anything to offer? I believe it to be a masterclass in melding genres as well as developing your own identity, in that sense I believe those who listen and enjoy it can still learn from it. Does the music still stand up? Yes and no, it suffers from some age problems but all in all it still sounds great and still has a lot going for it.

Let us know your opinion, did you love it? Did you hate it? Whatever you felt be sure to keep checking out Musical Chairs for more news, reviews and blogs, for now though I've been Ryan Sweeney, this has been Nostalgia Corner and it's all been for Musical Chairs

R.Sweeney (@TheCautiousCrip)

No comments:

Post a Comment