After decades of of buying albums and merch from favorite bands, I've often commented to friends how it would "be nice" if they "threw us a bone" once in a while. You know, something gratis given back to the people who helped make the artist popular in the first place. Indeed, some special treats have been issued over the years. But especially during the current Covid 19 lockdown, more and more kind offerings are popping up from artist to fan as a goodwill gesture during these difficult times.
The news of a significant new "bone" tossed to fans of The Grateful Dead broke on July 1st (I first read about it via Rolling Stone). The band not only announced that they had discovered a treasure trove of session tapes documenting the creation of the band's landmark 1970 acoustic rock breakthrough release -- Workingman's Dead -- but that they were putting it all out (effectively, for free) via multiple streaming media services! There is quite a neat story behind the stream's genesis which you should read about by clicking here including why it was named The Angel's Share.
Curiously, however, when you click on the link to The Angel's Share on the official Grateful Dead website it doesn't offer to take you to Tidal where you would be able to hear the MQA-encoded stream in 96 kHz, 24-bit fidelity (nor does it take you to Qobuz which I'm told by the company will stream it in Hi Res starting around July 10th; currently it is at CD quality).
Thus I'm here to tell you a bit about those streams and why you may want to listen even if you aren't a Dead Head.
First off, lets discuss the reasons you should listen if you are a Dead Head or a songwriter or recording artist yourself. Here on The Angel's Share we truly get to be a total fly on the wall, listening in on how this landmark album was crafted. Here, we get to witness just how tight and focused band leader Jerry Garcia was with his vision for the music.
"Watch" (with your ears) in awe as he directs rhythm guitarist Bob Weir and drummer Bill Kreutzmann on nailing down the basic guide track for "New Speedway Boogie." Listen with your mind's eye as Jerry lays down a kickin' lead vocal to this killer acoustic groove.
Revel in how the rich soundstage for "Black Peter" assembles before your very ears as the engineers dial in Phil Lesh's bass, locking his low end pulse in with Kreutzmann's sweet laid back shuffle-esque groove to bridge the gap between Jerry and Bob's acoustic guitars in the left and right channels. It is a very pure Stereo listening experience in many ways, hearing the sound of a favorite piece of music assemble before your eyes and ears.
And it is here where -- and why -- you may want to tune in, Dear non-Dead-Head readers of Audiophile Review.
There are some sweet demo worthy moments like this (click here for Tidal) where you'll hear pure instrumental bliss. No reverb. No compression. No overdubs. Just woody acoustic guitars, bass and sparest of percussion.
There are sixty four -- count 'em, 64! -- tracks on The Angel's Share, some being just snippets while others are fuller takes and workouts tracing the evolution of the tracks. In the truest sense, it is an audio documentary that you might want to use for a demo every now and then.
My only hope with all this is that The Grateful Dead will issue a physical copy of some of this music. It would be great to get a Blu-ray Disc with the best takes from these session tapes in 96/24 fidelity or higher. I could easily see them putting out a nice vinyl LP version for Record Store Day.
If they throw that bone next, I'll be happy to toss back the cash. Thanks to The Grateful Dead for making this wonderful stream available for us. Its been a soulful, healing, uplifting experience for this near life long Dead Head.
Heck, when Pig Pen came on singing "Easy Wind" I got up from my chair and did a few twirls around my room.
I can't give The Angel's Share any better review than that!
Remember: when in doubt, twirl!