Music Reviews: A Superlative Grateful Dead Concert Album, plus Brother Brothers, Bobbie Gentry, Tom Paxton & Friends, and Triptides

Grateful Dead-Lyceum Theatre

If you’re a Grateful Dead fan, you may already own recordings of at least part of its 1972 European tour’s last concert, which happened at London’s Lyceum Theatre on May 26th of that year. The group’s Europe ’72 album includes four of the show’s songs; and you can find two more on Steppin’ Out with the Grateful Dead: England ’72 and Europe ’72 Volume 2

In addition, the whole concert has been previously issued individually and on 2011’s Europe ’72: The Complete Recordings, but the former release has been out of print for some time and you’ve got to be a really big fan to own the latter, which comprises 73 CDs and recently showed up on eBay with a $4,500 price tag. 

Now, however, the full show is again available, in one affordable four-CD set called Lyceum Theatre London, England 5/26/72. And if affordability isn’t an issue for you, there’s also a new limited-edition 24-LP set that embraces the group’s entire four-night stand at Lyceum.

Though a sticker on the album notes that it contains the penultimate performance by organist, harmonica player, and original frontman Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, who died in 1973, the accompanying booklet concedes that the set “lacks a showpiece” for him. However, he does make notable contributions to the performance and the absence of a spotlight role for him is about the only unfortunate fact regarding this glorious concert, which, in addition to Pigpen, features all the Dead’s other founding members: lead guitarist Jerry Garcia, drummer Bill Kreutzmann, bassist Phil Lesh, and rhythm guitarist Bob Weir. Also on hand are pianist Keith Godchaux and his vocalist wife, Donna, both of whom started playing with the band less than a year before this show, which capped the Dead’s first tour outside North America.

Like Bruce Springsteen in the 70s and 80s, this band seemed to want to play forever: the two-set Lyceum show from May 26 includes 31 tracks, many of which incorporate lengthy jams. The three-part “The Other One,” culled from 1968’s Anthem of the Sun, fills nearly half an hour on Disc Three. “Playing in the Band” and “Truckin’,” meanwhile, each run more than 18 minutes and serve as springboards for guitar pyrotechnics that take the music quite a distance from its opening verses. 

The program samples all aspects of the group’s repertoire. In addition to the psychedelia of “The Other One,” the band offers folk-flavored gems like Garcia and Robert Hunter’s “Sugaree” and Tim Rose and Bonnie Dobson’s “Morning Dew.” There are also nods to the Dead’s country influences, including Marty Robbins’s “El Paso” and Merle Haggard’s “Sing Me Back Home.” In addition, you’ll find more than a few rock ‘n’ roll jams, among them the group’s stupendous wedding of the traditional “Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Band” and Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away.” Other fan favorites that make the cut include Garcia and Hunter’s “Casey Jones,” Weir and Hunter’s “Sugar Magnolia,” John Phillips’s “Me and My Uncle,” and Weir’s “One More Saturday Night.” 

God knows, there’s not exactly a shortage of live Dead albums to choose from at this point, but if you wanted to introduce someone to the group for the first time, this concert would be as good a place to start as any. It features well-restored and remastered audio, and it hits most of the important bases in the Dead’s catalog up to this point (though you’ll have to look elsewhere for “Dark Star”). It also finds the band consistently fired up and at the top of its form. Garcia’s contributions throughout are particularly breathtaking. On song after song, his soaring, frequently jazz-influenced guitar lines will make you want to stand up and cheer.

More Noteworthy New Albums

The Brother Brothers-Cover to Cover CD

The Brother BrothersCover to CoverTwin brothers Adam and David Moss grew up listening to the Everly Brothers, and their magnificent harmony vocals have been compared to Phil and Don’s work so often that it’s surprising they didn’t include an Everlys number in this collection of covers. No matter. The song choices are uniformly terrific, and so are the performances, which suggest that these guys are every bit as talented as their fantastic progenitors. Among the dozen tracks: Tom T. Hall’s “That’s How I Got to Memphis,” Jackson Browne’s “These Days,” Judee Sill’s “Rugged Road,” the Beatles’ “I Will,” and Robert Earl Keen’s “Feeling Good Again,” which beautifully describes one of those moments in life when everything falls into place.

Bobbie Gentry-Girl from Chickasaw County Highlights CD

Bobbie GentryThe Girl from Chickasaw County: Highlights from the Capitol MastersBobbie Gentry’s biggest claim to fame by far is 1967’s chart-topping “Ode to Billy Joe,” which ranks among the best written, performed, orchestrated, and produced singles of the 1960s or any other decade. As a Grammy-winning and career-spanning eight-CD box set demonstrated in 2018, however, there was a great more to Gentry than this song. That said, the price of the box was undoubtedly too high to attract casual fans, and besides, it’s apparently now out of print. So, the good news is that a new 46-track, two-disc set collects all the essentials, starting, of course, with “Ode to Billie Joe,” and including a couple of live tracks, a duet with Glen Campbell, some alternate versions, and a variety of choice covers.

All New-Tom Paxton, Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer CD

Tom PaxtonCathy Fink & Marcy MarxerAll NewFolk singer/songwriter Tom Paxton will turn 85 later this year, but he sounds as energized and in love with music as he did at half that age. Teaming up here with the veteran folk duo of Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer, he offers a two-CD acoustic set comprised of 28 songs he wrote with Fink over Zoom during the pandemic. Subjects range from romance (“I’m Still in Love with You”) and homesickness (“Dreams of Home”) to a folk-world giant (“Pete’s Shoulders (The Power of Song)”) and politics (“When the Big, Bad Books Go ‘Boo!’” and the 20-second-long “Trump Lost, Biden Won”). Not everything works on this relentlessly upbeat album but most of it is likely to put a smile on your face.

Riptides So Many Days CD

TriptidesSo Many DaysYou can get a clue as to where this Southern California–based trio is coming from in the first four letters of its name, but you won’t need clues once you start listening to its retro music, which evokes psychedelia from the likes of the Byrds and the Zombies. This latest release finds guitarist, keyboardist, and singer Glenn Brigman, drummer Brendan Peleo-Lazar, and bassist/guitarist Stephen Burns in a likably laid-back mood, featuring dreamy melodies, jingle-jangle guitar, and vocals that often seem redolent of the Zombies’ Colin Blunstone. Imagine a cross between early Pink Floyd ballads like “If” and “Fat Old Sun” and the Laurel Canyon sound from the same era and you won’t be far off.

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