Grateful Dead - American Beauty And American Beauty: The Angel’s Share Music Album Reviews

Grateful Dead - American Beauty And American Beauty: The Angel’s Share Music Album Reviews
Reissued for its 50th anniversary, American Beauty is undoubtedly the Dead’s most beloved studio album, a pure and potent representation of their style and philosophical outlook.

To an outsider, Grateful Dead fandom can look like a religious calling. Consider the hours spent in contemplation of their famously lengthy jams, the lexicon of shibboleths and symbols that are inscrutable to the uninitiated, the seemingly prescribed style of dress, the reluctant messiah figure in Jerry Garcia. Actual religious groups even attached themselves to the endless tours that provided this community with its gathering places. If you attended one of the Dead’s carnivalesque stadium shows in the late 1980s—when hippie nostalgia, spectacle-driven TV news coverage, and a bona fide MTV hit converged to make their crowds much larger than they’d ever been in the hippie era—you might have encountered the Peacemaker bus. Filled with longhaired evangelicals who followed the band in hopes of drawing its listeners into a cultish Christian sect known as the 12 Tribes, the Peacemaker had two floors, a groovy paint job, and a faintly eerie slogan emblazoned on the back: “We know the way, we’ll bring you home.”
That line comes from “Ripple,” the sixth song on American Beauty, Grateful Dead’s fifth and greatest studio album. But as Pitchfork contributor Jesse Jarnow notes in Heads, his wonderful history of American psychedelia, the Peacemaker’s motto was a perversion of the original. The musicians of the Dead, as well as Robert Hunter, the eremitic poet who wrote many of their lyrics, were temperamentally averse to dogma of any kind. On “Ripple,” a crystalline acoustic ballad with a hymnlike melody, they don’t profess to have the answers. “You who choose to lead must follow,” Garcia sings in his plainspoken tenor atop a cascading mandolin, then finishes with the line the 12 Tribes appropriated: “If I knew the way, I would take you home.” Were the Dead a religion, this would be one of its core tenets. Devotion and uncertainty are inseparable; no one knows the way, but we can try to get there together.

Released in November 1970 and reissued for its 50th anniversary this month, American Beauty is a pure and potent representation of Dead-ness as a philosophical outlook. Earlier in the year, with Workingman’s Dead, the band made an abrupt about-face from the murk and discord of previous albums toward the bluegrass and folk that had captivated Garcia in his early days as a musician, with some Buck Owens and Merle Haggard thrown in for good measure. American Beauty, which came just five months later, uses a similarly earthy palette, but its concerns are quite different. The songs of Workingman’s Dead, filled with archetypal characters of the American West, involve a fair amount of rambling and gambling. American Beauty is more like a guided meditation, or a solitary swim in a cool, clear lake.

Bassist Phil Lesh earned a rare songwriting credit for “Box of Rain,” the heartbreaking opener, whose melodies he wrote to sing to his father as he died of prostate cancer. Hunter’s dreamlike titular image might stand for the ephemerality of the present moment, or of life itself. Again, the band goes out of its way to avoid presenting its wisdom as something certain or compulsory: “Just a box of rain/Wind and water/Believe it if you need it/If you don’t, just pass it on.” Hunter conjures similar impossibilities across the album: lights that no eyes can see, tunes that play on harps unstrung, ripples emerging in water without pebbles to cause them.

Decades before mindfulness became a corporate buzzword, the Dead were devoted to being here now. According to Garcia, an acid-fried visit to the Watts Towers a few years before the American Beauty sessions informed this approach, albeit in an inverted way. The guitarist was inspired not to toil in solitude for his legacy, like Simon Rodia building his folk-art monuments in southern Los Angeles, but to live in the world as it unfolded. “If you work really hard as an artist, you may be able to build something they can’t tear down, you know, after you’re gone,” he said later. “But hey, what the fuck? I want it here. I want it now, in this lifetime...I also don’t want to be isolated. I don’t want to be an artist suffering in a garrett somewhere, you know what I mean? I want to work with other people.”
Grateful Dead - American Beauty And American Beauty: The Angel’s Share Music Album Reviews
This commitment to coming together and being present manifested most clearly in the Dead’s live performances, communal explorations of the moment that only survived for posterity because of bootleg tapers, the sect of Deadheads who documented the band’s fleeting magic, like catching rain in a box. But they also show up on American Beauty, in subtler ways. “Friend of the Devil,” a narrative told from the perspective of an outlaw on the run, might have been a straightforward piece of Americana if not for the way the band played it. Joined by bluegrass-jazz mandolin virtuoso David Grisman, they refuse to sit still and simply strum the chords. Instead, each player pursues his own melodic path through the changes, which emerge in crystalline polyphony. Each line wanders freely, but complements the others; none could support Garcia’s lead vocal alone, but their latticework holds him high.

Across American Beauty, the band accomplishes such feats without straying from the bounds of country-folk songcraft, encoding their collective interplay within verses and choruses rather than jamming, per se. The album’s simplicity and campfire warmth make it approachable to newcomers even as it embodies the spiritual yearning that turns people into lifelong followers. It is an ideal gateway drug.

The reissue comes packaged with a 1971 concert recording, and arrives in tandem with American Beauty: The Angel’s Share, a collection of demos and outtakes that will hardcore fans will lap up, but newcomers to the album should probably ignore. For anyone in between, The Angel’s Share is a useful reminder of the work that goes into sounding so free. Garcia, Lesh, and rhythm guitarist Bob Weir struggle hard with their vocal harmonies in the “Brokedown Palace” demo, an uncomfortably intimate window on their process, which hardly anyone needs to hear more than once. Drummer Bill Kreutzman stumbles over a flashy drum fill to start “‘Til the Morning Comes,” an intro the band abandoned at some point between the demo and the final version. The Angel’s Share comes in an album-length edition with one demo for every song, as well as a 56-track version containing 20 different takes on “Friend of the Devil” alone. For all their emphasis on spontaneity, these songs didn’t actually emerge from thin air.

American Beauty contains the final studio performances of keyboardist and singer Ron “Pigpen” McKernan. His bluesy shout and rough-hewn charisma made him the Dead’s de facto frontman in their earliest years, but his role in the band receded in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, as he grew dissatisfied with their drift toward experimentation and away from the driving rock’n’roll that was his forte. In 1973, months before the Dead started work on American Beauty’s studio followup Wake of the Flood, he died at 27 from complications related to his heavy drinking, leaving his bandmates devastated. The twangy and good-natured “Operator,” his lone lead vocal and songwriting credit on American Beauty, is the album’s outlier, content on Earth without reaching for anything resembling the divine.

Though American Beauty is undoubtedly the Dead’s most beloved studio album, by fans and skeptics alike, most of its songs were never major staples of their live sets, making it something like an island in the stream of their larger canon. One exception is “Truckin’,” the album closer, an easygoing ode to the open highway that became an anthem for Deadheads and for freaks and hippies more generally. It can be difficult to apprehend how the Chuck Berry pastiche of “Truckin’”’s verses relates to American Beauty’s zen worldview, until you get to the song’s spacious bridge, which spawned one of those catchphrases so ubiquitous as to seem without origin:
Sometimes, the light’s all shining on me
Other times, I can barely see
Lately it occurs to me
What a long, strange trip it’s been
In the scheme of things, Grateful Dead were only just getting started in 1970; the trip would get much longer and stranger still, and Pigpen was not the last member they’d lose along the way. The “Truckin’” bridge offers a brief pit stop for reflection on the past, but the point is to keep going, city to city, moment to moment. In concert, “Truckin’” regularly stretched past 10 minutes; on record, it is a modest 5:07. It ends with a fade, a tantalizing glimpse at a jam that might go on forever—six brothers truckin’ down the road together toward home, whichever way that is.
Share on Google Plus

About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Grateful Dead - American Beauty And American Beauty: The Angel’s Share Music Album Reviews Grateful Dead - American Beauty And American Beauty: The Angel’s Share Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Saturday, November 07, 2020 Rating: 5

0 comments:

Post a Comment