Feb 102009
 

I’ve been to Bonnaroo two times, but somehow the traditional vibe hasn’t hit me; I still don’t like jam bands. In fact, I may be the only person alive who prefers the Grateful Dead as an album band. In the studio they’re forced to keep a certain focus lacking in the twenty-minute jam noodles they seem incapable of avoiding live. Album-wise, however, this and American Beauty are certified classics. A few songs on the latter annoy me (read: “Truckin’”), but every song on Workingman’s Dead gets my toes tapping.

Jammy Dead covers abound, making this potentially the easiest cover disc I’ve ever done. I tried to branch out a little bit though so, while there are a few jammy elements, there’s also a strong jazz-folk current running through this list. Spark one up and turn on, tune in, drop out.

Indigo Girls – Uncle John’s Band
The girls keep the folk harmony styling of the first, but make it bop and roll. This and the Zevon below come off a hit-or-miss Dead covers come called, moderately creatively, Deadicated. [Buy]

Henry Kaiser – High Time
Piano jazz brings out the heartache of this duet. I can’t figure out who the female vocalist is here, but if you like the sound check out Eternity Blue, his album of Dead covers. [Buy]

Stiff Dead Cat – Dire Wolf
A unique name for a band certainly, but somehow their sound fits. It’s ugly, raw, and going slightly sour. Some fast-paced bluesing here, they go so far as to drastically reinvent the chorus with a completely new cadence. Once you get the original out of your head, it works great. [Buy]

Catherine Russell – New Speedway Boogie
Another one for the female vocal fans out there, Russell’s take grooves and swings propelled by a bassline worth of Phil Lesh himself. Many artists here rely on the harmony stylings of the originals, but Catherine proves she needs no help by wrapping her voice around each word so soulfully you know anyone else would just distract. [Buy]

The Waybacks – Cumberland Blues
It would be insulting to Jerry and co. not to include a live take somewhere in here, so here’s one by a band that shares the Dead ethos of sharing concert recordings. The Waybacks acoustic-bluegrass jam this one out to thirteen minutes, but you can find many more covers of it at archive.org. [Buy]

Emory Joseph – Black Peter
Another tribute album worth getting, Fennario: Songs by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter, EJ plucks his acoustic along with periodic flourishes of drum, organ, or whatever else strikes his fancy. It gives the proceedings the ode of a funeral dirge, but slowly builds into celebratory gospel. [Buy]

Desert Rain – Easy Wind
Another live one here, it’s the rare imposition of an electric guitar in this set. The guitar makes up for it by distortion-soloing throughout the song, vying with vocals and harmonica for brash attention. [Buy]

Warren Zevon with David Lindley – Casey Jones
One of my favorite songwriters, Warren Zevon is no slouch at the art of the cover either. Here he keeps the spirit of the original intact while mixing some fun rock vibes. Nice to see Lindley here as well who, in a weird twist of fate, has spent a lot of time collaborating with the aforementioned Henry Kaiser. Catchiest song about a cocaine-addled train engineer headed to his doom ever! [Buy]

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