Written by 4:18 am Audiophile Music

Grateful for More Jerry Garcia

Mark Smotroff reconsiders a mid-70s Garcia gem…

I’ll be honest with you folks: I haven’t played the 1974, seemingly-eponymously-titled, second Jerry Garcia album in ages.  I mean, like, ages. 

Also known to insiders as Compliments of Garcia due to the words written above his name on the original promotional copies, not sure why I have long felt such indifference to this album. 

AR-ComplementsDJCover225.jpgLike… really… I haven’t played this album since college or shortly thereafter 30 years ago. When the Jerry Garcia CD boxed set came out a number of years ago — All Good Things — I think I skipped over this album and just checked out some of the bonus tracks.

What was my problem with it?  Maybe first and foremost is the fact that it doesn’t quite sound like I might have expected a Jerry Garcia album to sound back in the day. This recording has more of a New Orleans flavor to it, with big punchy horn sections and deep reverb on Jerry’s voice. Its very different than the sort of stripped down funky jams he was exploring on his many side projects to The Grateful Dead (side groups eventually named Legion of Mary, Reconstruction and then finally as simply The Jerry Garcia Band).  

Most significantly, Compliments of Garcia delivered a very different sound than his classic Live at Keystone album (with Merl Saunders) which came out a year earlier (on Fantasy Records) and was embraced by many a Dead Head (such as one of my older brothers who had it). 

Yet at the same time this music fits right in with the Keystone material and formed the core of future Jerry Garcia Band sets. 

Its just a more produced sound than one might have expected from Jerry Garcia at the time. Way more produced.

Time however is both healer and avenger…So the great thing about coming back to a reissue like this after all this time is that one can listen with fresh ears, and maybe, just maybe, this vintage music one overlooked might well knock you out.  

My musical knowledge has changed over time. My tastes have expanded over time. My appreciation for new and different sounds has increased a thousand-fold over time.  

So while at the time this came out I was hearing “sell out,” what I am hearing now is a fine, well produced pop album with some funky twists, featuring a quite remarkable array of special guests.  

Now, you may be wondering why I am reviewing this in the first place now? I suspect by the time you are reading this it will already be September into October 2015. Well, earlier this year for some inexplicable reason, this album was reissued for Record Store Day by the Jerry Garcia estate on a special “limited edition” of 7,000 copies on 180-gram translucent green vinyl.  

7,000 isn’t a very “limited” run, when you stop to think that they probably sold about that many back in the day. But, I digress…

I don’t have any problem with the release, odd though it may seem for an RSD edition. What I did have trouble with was the price: the album was going for $25 and more in some outlets. 

AR-GarciaComplementsPlaying225.jpgNow while $25 seems on the high end of the average for many newer releases these days, its a bit high for an old album that is not exactly rare. Slip off your Birkenstocks for a bit and consider the perspective of an aging Dead Head — moi, Dear Readers — and life long record collector. Understand that this album, when it came out, was released on The Grateful Dead’s own boutique subsidiary label called Round Records (at that time manufactured and distributed by United Artists Records). Like a lot of the albums on the band’s own label (Grateful Dead Records), their marketing and distribution was rather iffy…. questionable even.  

It didn’t help matters that just as they were getting their own label together and operational the band took a break from touring. Some fans had even thought they were splitting up as these various and sundry side projects from almost all the band members flooded the market — Mickey Hart’s Diga Rythm Band, Phil Lesh’s Seastones, Keith & Donna’s album, Jerry’s Old and in the Way, etc.

From an audiophile perspective, a lot of these records that came out on the Dead’s own label didn’t sound particularly terrific. Some could sound decent, for sure: Wake of the Flood and Blues for Allah, especially.  The other albums were sounding a bit murky, the mixes sort of muted.  Also, America at that time was in the midst of a major Oil Crisis so vinyl quality was often low (oil is required to make the vinyl used for producing records). I still have some of those kinda noisy presssings. 

Take all that into consideration and soon you found a lot — and I mean, a lot! — of these records popping up in the bargain bins of record stores across the country. Thus it was very common to find Compliments of Garcia for $1.99 most places.  Brand new. Sealed.   

Over the years, its status as a collectible has grown a little bit — it has a very pretty full color cover with embossed images of Garcia, his custom Alembic guitar and the birdies flying off into the sky behind him. 

But still, you could easily find a nice copy of this album used for $10 or so if you looked around. So, $25 for the reissue seemed a bit steep, especially for a common old album of this non-peak-period vintage. 

Well… surprise of surprises, something happened on Record Store Day this year:  Complements of Garcia didn’t sell real well (at least from what I’ve seen out in the stores, where it is still commonly available).  

Deja Vu man, its a trip. 

]]>So… guess what? The prices have started getting reduced in some stores… well… in at least one store that I know of!  Its not down to $1.99 levels, but I was able to get a copy at 1-2-3-4 Go Records here in San Francisco for 50-percent off, or roughly $12.50. 

Honestly, it should have been sold for around that price to begin with or maybe $20 max.  Come on Garcia family, throw us a bone or two already. We’ll keep you folks happily employed. But we’re all not millionaires who can afford buying all this stuff over and over again. 

Anyhow, enough of the set up on this review. You are probably wondering how the darn thing sounds. In a word: pretty great!

AR-GarciaLabelGreen225.jpgI compared my new edition to a clean promotional copy of the original album that I own and musically it sounds spot on. The new remastering — by the great Joe Gaswirt — is very warm and clean. It feels analogue, though I have no idea what the actual food chain was in making this new edition. Even when I turn it up I am hearing no real harshness and its all very pleasant sounding. 

It rocks, frankly. 

Crucially, the vinyl sounds so much much much quieter than the original. The record disappears and for the most part all you hear is the music. Its not perfect, as there were one or two little sounds I have heard between tracks but those were incredibly minor and ultimately didn’t bother my listening experience.  

A lot of care went into this reissue. Much more than went into the production of the original, that is for sure. The album comes housed in a nice audiophile-type rice paper/plastic innersleeve. 

Most importantly, we can now really hear the music and what fine fine music it is. As I said at the start of this, time is both a healer and avenger and in this case Jerry’s production choices are getting the last laugh. This album doesn’t sound particularly of 1974 and it certainly doesn’t sound particularly like The Grateful Dead or even The Jerry Garcia Band of the time. The jams are there and his guitar playing is ever tasteful and at times smoking.  

This music sounds rather timeless, actually…

Now, here in 2015, I can really hear clearly — and also appreciate — the glorious backing vocals of the likes of Merry Clayton (on Van Morrison’s “He Ain’t Give You None” and John Kahn & Robert Hunter’s “Midnight Town”). With this edition we also get a nice insert sheet detailing the players such as studio jazz fusion supremo Larry Carlton on guitar (yeah, the same guy who played with Steely Dan and others) and the great Ron Tutt on drums — he of Elvis Presley and Carpenters fame (who eventually went on to become Neil Diamond’s drummer of choice, according to the wiki, to this present day!).

“Russian Lullabye” sounds particularly spectacular, with Jerry playing classical guitar — you can hear his fingers picking on the strings — backed by a clarinet, violin, trombone and producer John Kahn on bass. Its really the star of this collection. The other stellar beacon of production is “Mississippi Moon,” which reads more like a lost Randy Newman tune with production touches you would expect more from the likes of Tom Waits and Van Dyke Parks.  Its really gorgeous.

AR-GarciaComplimentsCover225.jpgCompliments of Garcia is — in retrospect — a fine, fine album. Yes, it is filled with cover tunes, but there is a studio finesse in these arrangements and the production that stands out here and goes on to counter the notion that The Grateful Dead didn’t know how to make a good studio recording. I have long disagreed with that argument and will hold up at least a handful or two of their records as testament to the fact that they could make great — and great sounding — records. I now add Compliments of Garcia to that list — which in my book includes American BeautyWorkingman’s DeadBlues for AllahTerrapin Station as well as Jerry’s first, eponymously titled solo album from 1971. 

It is among the best sounding albums to come out from an individual member of The Grateful Dead. And for $12.50 on pretty green vinyl, how sweet a package it is, indeed.  You can mailorder it from 1-2-3-4 Go Records for about $20.

Keep an eye out for a copy if you can find it on sale somewhere. Its a keeper.

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