Grateful Dead – Workingman’s Dead (1970), American Beauty (1970)


“Freshly busted in New Orleans and teetering upon the edge of financial ruin, the Grateful Dead began 1970 in dire need of a new beginning. Remarkably for a band who had a habit of making their own bad luck, the Dead didn’t miss this opportunity. Operating with a focus they rarely possessed, the band returned to their folk-blues roots and knocked out their fourth album, Workingman’s Dead, in a matter of days, transforming the trajectory of their career in the process. Often grouped together with its successor American Beauty—reasonably so, considering how Beauty is carved from the same rustic material and appeared just a matter of months later—Workingman’s Dead fit into the anti-psychedelia wave that swept through American rock’n’roll at the dawn of the 1970s. … Stills and Crosby encouraged Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, and Phil Lesh to sing harmonies, a skill that would come in handy when it came to recording the new batch of songs Garcia was writing with his lyricist Robert Hunter. … It’s possible to hear that howl echoing through Workingman’s Dead. The trio’s voices don’t quite mesh, sometimes hitting a dissonant chord, sometimes scrambling for the same note; their effort isn’t merely heard, it’s felt. All that fumbling winds up as an asset on Workingman’s Dead, adding a bit of messiness to the tight performances. Much of that precision can be chalked up to how the Grateful Dead mapped out all of Workingman’s Dead prior to recording the album with their live-sound team of Bob Matthews and Betty Cantor, a pair who shared a co-production credit with the band. Nothing was left to chance. Matthews, Cantor, and Garcia drew up a provisional sequencing during these sessions, circulating this rough draft on demo cassettes among the band. Rehearsals came next, then the rapid sessions, outtakes of which can be heard on The Angel’s Share, a digital-only collection released alongside the 50th Anniversary edition of Workingman’s Dead. The chief insight provided by The Angel’s Share is how Garcia kept the Dead on track, calling for changes in tempo and directing the arrangements so neither the song nor vibe is obscured. Compared to its willfully spacy predecessor Aoxomoxoa—an album the band recorded twice, as the band exhausted the possibilities of a new 16-track tape recorder while exhausting the patience and wallet of Warner Bros—the simplicity of Workingman’s Dead is bracing, even refreshing, but it’s the earthy, weathered grooves that give the album its distinct character and power. …”
Pitchfork, Pitchfork: American Beauty
W – Workingman’s Dead, W – American Beauty
Discogs: Workingman’s Dead (Video), American Beauty (Video)
amazon: Workingman’s Dead, American Beauty
YouTube: Workingman’s Dead (2020 Remaster) [Full Album], American Beauty (Full Album)

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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