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Grateful Dead: Ready Or Not

Doug Collette By

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The curators of the Grateful Dead's Ready Or Not have done the band a favor in producing this title. The band's own attempts were futile in recording a studio followup to Built to Last (Arista, 1989), but the group nonetheless kept composing new material and playing it in concert during their final years of touring.

Captured from the stage between 1992 and 1995 at various locations by engineers Dan Healy and John Cutler (then mastered by David Glasser), these nine selections follow an ebb and flow comparable to a live show, due no doubt to the efforts of producer David Lemieux, who long ago proved himself a past master at such sequences—see the double compact disc set from The Complete Europe 72 Recordings (Rhino, 2011) and the three-CD cull from The Complete Fillmore West 1969 Recordings (Rhino, 2005). Notwithstanding the up and down over the course of this full-length CD, based on the quality of the material, the chief archivist of the Grateful Dead preserves the integrity of the album.

The two highlights of Ready Or Not have been previously-released, albeit in different form . So Many Roads (Arista, 1999) contained different performances of its title song and "Days Between," latter-day collaborations from the Jerry Garcia/ Robert Hunter songwriting team and arguably two of the finest the pair ever composed, There's a particularly poignant (yet ominous) air to both, as befits the nature of reflections on the passage of time, but while the strength of the former resides mostly in the lyricist's poetic choice of words, coupled with his partner's dignified vocal delivery, the latter becomes an appropriate close to the album with the frenzied guitar solo from the titular leader of the Grateful Dead.

At the other end of the record, "Liberty" and "Eternity" introduce a contemplative state of mind similar to that elucidated through the aforementioned two numbers. In the slow-motion bounce of its riffs, both recall "China Cat Sunflower" and "Scarlet Begonias," but these are much more direct personal expressions: the former stipulates a declaration of independence perhaps somewhat staunch to a fault (...'leave me alone..I'll find my own way home"), while its undaunted final expression ('I'd die for love!') resonates into and through the latter, a number blues icon Willie Dixon co-wrote with Bob Weir and Rob Wasserman; it posits existence made perpetual through the intimacies of carnal delight.

Further indicative of the range of sources involved with these latter-day originals, the composing contributions of the Grateful Dead's final permanent keyboardist, Vince Welnick, also have their place in this song flow. Like his playing,"Samba In the Rain" is earnest but ultimately forgettable, but the one-time member of the Tubes also enacted a writing partnership with MIDI expert Bob Bralove and Hunter for "Way to Go Home," and its placement is ideal near the home stretch of this album (also available as a double LP vinyl package).

That collaboration sets up the intricate, extended rhythmic workout that is "Corrina," on which, not surprisingly, percussionist Mickey Hart chipped in as composer. The symphonic washes here, however, are more prevalent and thus more off-putting than the more restrained intervals on another stellar Garcia/Hunter piece "Lazy River Road:" there the orchestral touches mirror a melancholy as palpable as that of a different version, also on the aforementioned box set and that deeply emotive quotient stands testament to the singular mindset of its composers.

Jesse Jarnow's song-by-song liner notes unfortunately don't reflect the seamless quality of Ready or Not. Too much of the prose sounds forced, so the song-by-song iteration overall might well have been half its length, if only to allow more of Bob Minkin's photos; those stage shots capture the energetic if often subdued action in this music better than the writer's words. In the end, too, those discerning images of Minkin's, far more than the amateurish cover art (or the enclosed sticker with an artist's renditions of the band members) finalize the placement of a clarifying filter on the end days of this legendary band's creative processes.

Track Listing

Liberty; Eternity; Lazy River Road; Samba In The Rain; So Many Roads; Way To Go Home; Corrina; Easy Answers; Days Between.

Personnel

Jerry Garcia: lead guitar, vocals ; Bob Weir: rhythm guitar, vocals; Vince Welnick: keyboards, vocals; Phil Lesh: electric bass, vocals; Bill Kreutzmann: drums; Mickey Hart: drums.

Additional information

Title: Ready Or Not | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Rhino

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