Saturday, May 15, 2010

Blues For Allah

Between February 27 and May 7, Grateful Dead went to studio, without any peculiar plan, any motif or written music to record Blues for Allah. The band's inspiration to create incredible studio works was in its best since 1970 and recording of American Beauty album. A change of mood that had been started from the glorious Wake of the Flood , in 1973, had achieved a good critical and commercial result. The new members (Keith and Donna Jean Godchaux) were conforming to the sound of Dead so perfectly. I still think it was best Dead line up for a studio session, if not the best for live gigs (I still prefer Dead's latter days with Brent Mydland, especially their return-to-acoustic 1980 concerts)

For me, the reason for returning to this incredible album was finding new materials from the session, mostly studio rehearsals, which is circulating as various bootlegs and open our eyes to a new dimension of Dead at work. The sense of spontaneous improvisation is evident in first tracks Help on the way/Slipknot/Franklin’s Tower, where they are combining jazz riffs with the most moving rock ‘n’ roll rhythms ever used by the group since mid 1960s.

There are two or three unheard tunes in the bootleg that I discovered. One of them, Lazy Lightening, is a quite new one, probably a rejected song, based on a simple groovy theme and extended as a jam-like song. There are also couple of very jazzy jams. A row version of Music never stopped without vocals and reeds. It's another tour de force of master Jerry Garcia.
From the beginning Garcia was playing with his Irwin's guitars, except from 1975-77, when he favored a bone-white Travis Bean. This was another fertile period for Garcia and the Dead, and it includes the albums Blues for Allah and Terrapin Station. Not many changes in his playing style crop up during this era, though the introduction of some new effects did color his sound in interesting ways.

Here, The Dead’s circular rhythmic pattern is most close to the music of Thelonious Monk. Their music is based on rhythmic and harmonic repetition, and they both use arpeggios as a refreshing point of changing harmonies. Dead of Blues for Allah is a psychedelic encounter between Monk in his Underground album with the fingerpickin' style and dexterity of Wes Montgomery.
-- Ehsan Khoshbakht

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