Bob Weir - Ace (50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition) Music Album Reviews

Bob Weir - Ace (50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition) Music Album Reviews
Featuring multiple songs that became staples of the Grateful Dead’s live set, the 1972 solo debut by the guitarist and singer gets a deluxe edition with a new mix and some recent live recordings.

In the early 1970s, the Grateful Dead were playing the most exciting music of their long career, writing many of the songs that would sustain them for the next two decades, but they weren’t spending much time in the studio. A newcomer might take a look at their discography between ’70’s American Beauty and ’73’s Wake of the Flood and conclude that the famously stage-centric band had abandoned studio albums entirely: a pair of live records and a solo outing each from singer-guitarists Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir. Though Garcia’s solo debut often sounded like the work of the Dead, and contained several songs that the band would make their own in concert, in practice it was a hermetic affair, with Jerry playing nearly all of the instruments himself. Weir’s, on the other hand, features the full lineup, save for keyboardist Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, still an official member but in ill health at the time.

Just 19 years old at the time of the Dead’s founding in 1965, Weir was the band’s youngest member, and spent its earliest years as a support player, adding shards of harmonic accompaniment to Garcia’s liquid lead guitar lines. Over time, he grew into a sort of second frontman: affable and workmanlike, the guy onto which the audience could project themselves, his easy relatability a natural foil to Garcia’s gnomic mystique. Ace marks Weir’s transition from mere rhythm guitarist to a full-fledged composer and driving force of the band. Despite its origins as a receptacle for surplus Weir material, all of its songs but one became beloved staples of the Dead’s live sets.

Weir was writing songs steadily in the early ’70s: “I got a lot of material, and I just can’t use all of it for the Grateful Dead,” he told a Crawdaddy interviewer months after Ace’s release. But soon after he began working, the other members started showing up, asking if they could contribute: “Everybody gets wind of the fact I got the time booked, and I may be going into the studio. So, one by one, they start coming around, Lesh and Garcia, ‘Hey, man, I hear you got some time booked at Wally Heider’s. Need a bass player? A guitarist?’”

It is a Dead truism that the live tapes are more essential than the albums, an inversion of the hierarchy that governs other bands’ canons. Ace is no different. Surely, most listeners of its 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition will be more familiar with various bootlegged versions of “Playing in the Band” or “Greatest Story Ever Told” than the recordings presented here. From the perspective of deep fandom, it is almost impossible to imagine how the album might come across on its own terms to a listener approaching its songs for the first time. On the surface, it fits in with other West Coast folk- and country-rock of its time. But Weir, the Dead’s jorts-wearing regular joe, is a much stranger composer than he initially seems. Melodic lines, and sometimes entire song sections, jut out crookedly from their surroundings. Complex rhythms disguise themselves as simple, and vice versa. It might take you several listens to discern which part of a given tune is supposed to be the chorus, if it has one at all.

For fans, the Ace reissue is primarily an opportunity to get reacquainted with the studio versions of its songs. The most obvious difference is the horn section—instrumentation that the Dead never took on the road with them, but that Weir has continued to employ in his various projects outside the band over the decades. “Black-Throated Wind,” one of the very best collaborations between Weir and John Perry Barlow, his childhood friend and frequent lyricist, uses the tale of a solitary hitchhiker to reflect on a larger American loneliness. Onstage, it was rawboned, sometimes desolate, anchored by a descending Garcia guitar line. The Ace version is comparatively peppy, with funky punctuation from New Orleans-style brass. Disappointingly, a new mix for the reissue isolates the horns in the left stereo channel and brings them down to the point of being barely audible, perhaps in an effort to bring the accompaniment more in line with the song’s overall emotional tenor. Like many Dead studio efforts, Ace has an occasionally uncanny character, with a gloss that can seem gaudy and unsuited to the material. But why make it sound more like the live versions when there are so many live versions already out there?

The reissue also includes a live recording from last year of Weir and his Wolf Bros band playing through Ace in its entirety, augmented by a horn section and guest vocals from Americana stars Tyler Childers and Brittney Spencer. Fans will get a kick out of hearing Weir and Spencer duet on “Walk in the Sunshine,” the one song from Ace that didn’t make it into the Dead’s repertoire. (They were wise to leave it out: Its sprightly melodies are deflated by a preachy lyric from Barlow, espousing an indulgent and individualistic view of hippieism in keeping with his future career in libertarian politics.) Weir’s voice, an acquired taste even when he was young, has grown gnarled with age, and the decision to pair him with consummately professional singers like Childers and Spencer doesn’t serve either side of the equation: The performance can’t seem to decide whether it wants to be a warts-and-all affair in classic Dead fashion or a slick theatrical revue.

But Ace itself holds up as a rare chance to hear the Dead throwing down in the studio during its most creatively vital era. Sitting between the band’s stripped-down acoustic work of 1970 and the increasingly jazzy and progressive albums of ’73 through ’75, it comes as close to capturing their classic early-’70s sound as any other non-live recording. The arrangements are tightly wound, but no one stays too close to the center for long, finding outside spaces for improvisatory flair—Phil Lesh’s wandering bass melodies on “Looks Like Rain,” Bill Kreutzmann’s cascading tom fills on “Cassidy”—and then weaving back in.

If nothing else, fans and neophytes alike can bask in the studio version of “Playing in the Band,” Ace’s eight-minute centerpiece. That’s nothing compared to live versions, the longest of which clocks in at 46 minutes. But the Ace version contains some of the best jamming they ever did in the studio, at a relatively compact and approachable runtime. Onstage and on record, “Playing in the Band” is a marvel, slipping from liquified jazz fusion to hard-charging rock’n’roll and back, making them sound like two opposing sides of the same essential force. Only the Dead could sound like this, and only with Bob Weir at the wheel.

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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.
Bob Weir - Ace (50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition) Music Album Reviews Bob Weir - Ace (50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition) Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on February 01, 2023 Rating: 5


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