I didn’t fully know what to expect from the eight disc colored vinyl LP boxed set that Vinyl Me Please kindly sent me for review. A quick look at the package impressed me: it was sturdily shipped with excellent packing and came with some fun bonuses.
The 30-page full-color, beautifully-printed booklet raised the bar of my expectations a lot: almost all the albums in the set were newly mastered in an all analog “AAA” process by Chris Bellman at Bernie Grundman Mastering.
My anticipation was high knowing that could be a great thing (or not depending on the recording and how the tapes interacted at the time of transfer). Mostly they sound real nice and I’m very happy with the overall sound. There are some instances where I think I prefer an earlier original pressing or one of the newer restorations. We’ll discuss that when appropriate.
But in general I’m very pleased with the quality of this set from the sound quality on through to the fine details of its packaging and perhaps most importantly, how the set was curated.
If you are an established DeadHead vinyl collector, chances are you don’t really need this collection. However, if you are looking for nice quality vinyl pressings that are mostly pretty close to the originals in sound and in many ways better in packaging, The Story Of The Grateful Dead may be the collection for you. Getting Without A Net on vinyl is a neat bonus as it was not widely available back in the 90s when it came out.
The Story Of The Grateful Dead is very thoughtfully curated and lovingly assembled. For the price of admission, listeners even get access to a series of exclusive podcasts to help put this ground breaking music into historical and cultural perspective.
All the albums were manufactured at Quality Record Pressing and come in audiophile grade plastic sleeves. Perhaps my only production design nit is that some of the labels feature a new Warner Music logo which looks nothing like any of the original logos from the period these albums were made. Admittedly, this is record collector’s minutiae, but it is a detail worth noting.
I’d gone through many versions of this 1969 classic and was always frustrated never finding a decent sounding copy. Thus my go to copy for the CD era has been from the great The Golden Road CD boxed set (circa 2001). Spot checking the version on Tidal this new vinyl version sounds much warmer and rounder than the 16-bit, 44.1 kHz MQA edition there and on Qobuz (both are the early 2000-era remasters). In general this has been a treat to listen to.
It certainly sounds as good if not better than most earlier pressings I remember having over the years, many of which were pressed on somewhat noisy vinyl (especially during the oil crisis period). The extreme left-right stereo separation of Bill Kreutzmann and Micky Hart’s drums on “Turn On Your Lovelight” is great fun. The vinyl is quiet and the live soundstage is compelling. Live Dead is a great early presentation of The Grateful Dead in their element.
One of the best complements I can give the Europe ’72 set is that it sounds very similar to my original white label promo copy and my 2000-era 180-gram reissue (from Rhino Records, pressed at RTI). I didn’t even have to adjust the volume switching between LPs. It sounds just right.
One neat thing on this version is that the LP package design for the three disc set is different than any version I’ve ever seen before. Usually, Europe 72 is a tri-fold design cover — which has always been awkward to handle — made out of thinnish white oaktag. Built from thicker cardboard stock, this new edition features more of a “book” design so it opens like pages. It makes it much easier to get the albums out! The only three disc set I’ve seen constructed like this is the UK version of Yes’ classic 1973 live album, Yessongs.
Other than that, I certainly agree with the choice of including this album in the set as it not only includes legendary performances but also many essential Grateful Dead songs unavailable elsewhere.
If I have one critique of The Story Of The Grateful Dead thus far, I probably would have expanded the set by one more album, adding the 1971 two LP live album which many know and love as Skull & Roses. It too has essential Dead songs and classic performances. I would certainly recommend adding that album to your collection in addition to these.
In Part II of this review series I’ll look at the 80s era live recordings, Reckoning and Without A Net.