Aaaaand seeing as how I’m here anyway, I may as well throw around the heavy iron for a bit.
What the hell.
And since it’s Phil Lesh‘s 77th birthday today, I’m celebrating by listening to the ‘There And Back Again‘ album.
After releasing ‘Love Will See You Through‘, a live album featuring onetime guests like Jorma Kaukonen, ‘ol Phil organized a permanent touring and recording band under the moniker Phil Lesh & Friend, of which I have seen more times than I can recall.
This quintet, with an instrumentation that replicated the Grateful Dead‘s except for the inclusion of only one drummer, featured former Allman Brothers Band guitarists Warren Haynes and Jimmy Herring, former Zen Tricksters keyboardist Rob Barraco, and former Bruce Hornsby & the Range drummer John Molo. ‘There and Back Again‘ is this unit’s (hehehe…I said “unit”) first studio album and, not surprisingly, it sounds like a cross between the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers Band.
Lesh has made one other crucial connection, bringing in Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter to write the words for six of the 11 songs. (One of them is ‘Liberty‘, a Jerry Garcia co-composition the Dead performed toward the end.) Hunter has a distinctive, wordy writing style, full of allusions, aphorisms, and wordplay that will be familiar to any Deadhead.
The leadoff track, ‘Celebration‘, with music by Lesh, is very much the product of the team who wrote the Dead’s ‘Box of Rain‘; it is a statement of purpose, proclaiming a recommitment to a positive viewpoint despite “stolen elections, corruption, and hate.” Haynes, who does most of the singing (though Lesh and Barraco get leads, too), was a careful student of Gregg Allman’s throaty style, and his stinging slide guitar work recalls Duane Allman.
For the most part, the band members keep their natural tendency to jam in check, placing emphasis on the well-written songs. The tracks run four to six minutes each and usually fade out with the band still playing, so this material no doubt stretches out in concert (I can confirm that). The result is a surprisingly well-organized and accessible collection that is the best album yet made by a Grateful Dead spinoff band.
Happy birthday Phil, ya old bastard.
Truth be told, I cut my workout 15 minutes short seeing as how the only piece of equipment I needed top use was being occupied by some hipster doofus with tough guy neck tattoos who felt the need to load every weight in the place on it simply so he could take a kajillion selfies standing beside it.