In part one of this review series on The Story Of The Grateful Dead, an exclusive from Vinyl Me Please, I looked at the late ‘60s and early ‘70s classic live albums Live / Dead and Europe ’72. If you missed that review, please click here. In Part Two I looked at the 80s live albums Reckoning and Without a Net. If you missed that review, please click here. In Part Three we explored the classic early 70s albums Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty (click here if you missed that one).
Today we’ll look at two classic studio releases from the band in the 1970s, Wake of the Flood and Terrapin Station.
Recapping the intent of this collection, it is designed as an introductory overview for the vinyl-loving aspirant Dead Head.
Almost all the albums in The Story Of The Grateful Dead are newly mastered in all analog “AAA” form by Chris Bellman at Bernie Grundman Mastering. That is mostly a great thing and overall everything sounds real good. Excellent even. 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, 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.
All the albums were manufactured at Quality Record Pressing and come in audiophile grade plastic sleeves. The only design nit is that the Warner Brothers -era labels feature a new logo which looks nothing like any of the originals from the period these albums were made. However, the designer’s other solutions to the challenges of matching logos from subsequent labels (Arista Records) without infringing on trademarks is very interesting and fun indeed! More on that in a bit.
Wake Of The Flood
My favorite Grateful Dead album, Wake Of The Flood may also be my favorite in the Vinyl Me Please boxed set, for numerous reasons. First off, it sounds very much like my original vinyl pressings, albeit a bit brighter but not offensively so (as might happen with poor digital mastering, for example). The translucent coke-bottle green vinyl is dead quiet and well centered and that may be adding to the crispness of the sound (as I’ve written about in the recent past, click here).
I really like how the cymbals sound on “Here Come Sunshine,” with a nice sense of decay that is longer and more shimmery than the original pressing. Phil Lesh’s bass percolates like a bee bounding from flower to flower on “Eyes Of The World.” The acoustic guitar at the start of “Weather Report Suite” is gorgeous!
The cover art is quite accurate to the first pressings without the track-listing on the back cover. Construction wise, it employs a slight gloss flat paper stock and thick cardboard (the originals are decidedly non gloss, some even a bit textured). The labels look very accurate.
All that said, this is as close as we’ve gotten to a reproduction of the rare green vinyl fan club editions of Wake Of The Flood, all of which were damaged in an actual flood in the studio before they could be sent out. This particular pressing is one of the more elusive Grateful Dead collectibles (I have never seen a copy in person).
That said, if ever there was a target for a Record Store Day reissue, a green vinyl Wake Of The Flood would be it!
This 1977 release shocked some older Dead Heads but won new fans as the album garnered quite a bit of airplay (at least in markets like New York where The Grateful Dead were enormously popular). Tight and well produced by Keith Olsen (still fresh from his success producing Fleetwood Mac’s eponymously titled 1975 number one hit), the new production values threw some, notably the epic title track with orchestral strings arranged by no less than Paul Buckmaster (responsible for many of Elton John’s classic album arrangements).
Personally, I love this album and never understood why some were taken aback by it. To me it sounded like a natural evolution of the band. It is easily their last great studio release with a number of instant classics which remained in the Dead’s live shows for the rest of their careers including “Estimated Prophet,” “Samson & Delilah” and portions of the side-long title epic.
In preparing for listening to this new version, I first played my white label promo DJ copy of the album, which is about as close to the original vinyl presentation as one can get this side of hearing a test pressing. Then just for yucks I played the 192 kHz, 24 bit version on Tidal and the 96 kHz, 24-bit version on Qobuz. All sounded good, and cut from similar cloth, if you will.
Putting on the new Vinyl Me Please version the first thing I noticed was that the recording sounded quite a bit brighter. It sounds like Terrapin only the high end seems a bit crisper. There may be any number of reasons for this including (just guessing here) possible decisions to EQ it in the physical disc mastering stage and perhaps even the effect of the colored vinyl. As we’ve noticed before, some colored vinyl can — for lack of a better word — color the sound of a recording. Curiously this pressing had a fair amount of surface noise audible. It was nothing terrible mind you but I was conscious that the vinyl was there (as opposed to some recordings in which the noise floor all but disappears,which is the ideal).
Other than that the album sounds fine, is well centered and has, again, that clever GD interpretation of the Arista Records logo of the period. It is a classy design. The album also comes with a reproduction of the custom inner sleeve which came in the original album and it is all housed in a fine quality recreation of the cover art — made of thick cardboard and arguably better than the original (which was on thin oaktag stock, popular at the time)
So… there we have wrapped up our deep dive into the The Story of The Grateful Dead boxed set. It is a fine overview of the band. The set achieves what it intended to accomplish, providing a solid introduction to the Grateful Dead experience, its music and the various incarnations and evolutions.
Bravo to Vinyl Me Please for attempting something grand like The Story Of The Grateful Dead and pulling it off in a manner that not only pays loving tribute to — but also elevates — the band’s legacy.