An anniversary edition of the Toten’s second live album

Like the so-called White Album of the Beatles, the second concert LP of the same name by the Grateful Dead (after the Live / Dead of the same name from 1969) became known through a description of its cover: Skull & Roses. The record, released in October 1971, includes appearances from March and April of that year at seven concerts in New York and San Francisco. At the time, the group was enjoying the successive hits of Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty, released within five months of 1970. These albums find the Dead abandoning their earlier extended jams and psychedelic leanings for tightly constructed, melodic country rock that emphasizes distinctive, harmonic vocal work.

The 11-track Grateful Dead (Skull & Roses) – which includes the band’s original line-up of Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, Phil Lesh, and Bill Kreutzmann – doesn’t sound very much like those LPs. In fact, it doesn’t pull songs from either. Though country nodding, it paints a picture of a more eclectic group using funky rock and a return to psychedelia through its centerpiece: an 18-minute version of Bob Weir and Bill Kreutzman’s “The Other One” that came out first 1968 in Anthem of the Sun. There are also a few co-authors of Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter, the rocking “Bertha” and “Wharf Rat”, a wino story, and the infectious “Playing in the Band” by Hunter and Weir. The rest of the album consists of imaginatively arranged country and rock covers, including Kris Kristofferson’s “Me & Bobby McGee”; Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode”; Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried”; “Me & My Uncle” by John Phillips of Mamas and Papas; and a nine-minute medley that combines Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away” with the traditional “Goin ‘Down the Road Feelin’ Bad”.

As much as fans liked Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty, they apparently liked Grateful Dead (Skull & Roses) even more, and bought enough copies to make it the group’s first gold record. And for good reason: Although no single song here proves to be as dazzling as Live / Dead’s “Dark Star”, the band is consistently impressive and delivers solid new originals, all of which have become concert staples, as well as covers that have strong interpretive skills Prove and love the Bakersfield sound.

Now, a 50-year anniversary edition of the album offers good reasons to upgrade old copies: The original record – a double LP that later fitted onto a single CD – was well remastered for this release and is accompanied here by a second disc, which is a flawless one Recording of a previously unreleased Fillmore West concert from July 1971.

Granted, this 10-number concert – which doubles the length of the album to almost two and a half hours – duplicates some of the melodies from the original release. Admittedly, the Dead catalog now includes around five gazillion other concert recordings. That being said, the versions of the songs on the second CD that are also featured on the first CD – particularly “The Other One” – are worth listening to, and there are also some extremely noteworthy performances of numbers that are not on the original release, including an affectionate 10-minute reading of another Haggard classic, “Sing Me Back Home” and a nearly 18-minute version of “Good Lovin ‘” that sounds vaguely like the Rascals’ original hit for about two minutes before becoming classic Grateful Dead-Jam pass over territory.

As the group famously noted in American Beauty’s “Truckin ‘”, “What a long, strange journey it was”. And thanks to the reissue series that continues this anniversary edition of the Grateful Dead (Skull & Roses), it’s not quite over yet.

The return of the crowded house

Over the past decade, an appropriate name for Crowded House might have been Abandoned House. Though main drive Neil Finn has been engaged in solo projects – including his own CDs and playing with Fleetwood Mac – the group has not performed or released any new studio albums since Intriguer’s 2010.

However, don’t dream it’s over because it’s not: After a 10 year hiatus, Crowded House are back – so to speak – with a seventh studio LP called Dreamers Are Waiting. I say “somehow” because after numerous personnel changes the group only consists of two founding members, singer, guitarist, keyboardist and main songwriter Finn and bassist Nick Seymour.

The current band is rounded off by keyboardist Mitchell Froom, who produced the first three Crowded House albums as well as many other albums, and Finn’s multi-instrumentalist sons Liam and Elroy, who received songwriting credits for several of the 12 tracks. (Finn’s brother Tim, who played with him in Split Enz, also gets credit for composing and his wife Sharon provides the background vocals for a number. Perhaps the most appropriate name for the group at this point would be Finn’s House.)

With all the changes, it’s no surprise that Dreamers Are Waiting doesn’t sound like the group’s early work. However, it is reminiscent of Finn’s solo albums with lush, richly structured, subtle music that may not grab you immediately, but ultimately penetrates your head and stays there. Feast for the ears like “Start of Something”, the dreamy “Goodnight Everyone” and the Beatlesque “Real Life Woman” are just a few of the many reasons to get this CD.

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Reigning Sound deserves to rule

Singer / guitarist / songwriter Greg Cartwright has long been the only constant at Reigning Sound, a group that has been releasing records with a variety of staff for the last 20 years. When you listen to the new A Little More Time with Reigning Sound – their first CD in seven years and one that reunites the original band – you will understand why Steve Van Zandt advocates their blend of soul and garage rock. What you won’t understand is why these guys aren’t famous.

Cartwright is a compelling singer and great songwriter, and the other four players in his high-octane band – who add percussion, bass, keyboards, and backing vocals – know exactly how to approach your material. Guest musicians make significant contributions to the cello, violin and pedal steel.

Picking a favorite among the dozen tracks here would be tricky. “Let’s Do It Again” is party music for turning up and mixing the margaritas, as is the cover of Adam Faith’s “I Don’t Need That Kind of Lovin ‘”, the only non-original number on the album. Emotional mid-tempo numbers like “Oh Christine”, the country-tinged “Moving & Shaking” and the majestic “I’ll Be Your Man” are even better. This is one plate that you will likely want to get into high rotation.