Even among Deadheads, there's always been a sense that Jerry Garcia's studio albums have been somewhat ignored. Part of this ties back to the often repeated urban legend that the Grateful Dead were never as good in the studio as they were live -- an argument that has some truth but tends to downplay the merits of the studio albums, which had their own distinct attributes. This also applies to Garcia's studio records, but as a whole they're more problematic than the Dead's catalog. Every one of them is more tied to the production of the time, sounding like artifacts from their year of release, and apart from 1978's Cats Under the Stars -- his only collection of all-original material (counting a track by Donna Jean Godchaux) and rightly regarded by Garcia and fans as his best album -- it's hard to escape the sense that the guitarist treated the Jerry Garcia Band as a way to relax and unwind from the confines of the Grateful Dead, particularly since it turned into a touring outfit after 1982's half-hearted Run for the Roses.
For all these reasons, listening to the entirety of Rhino's exhaustive six-disc box set All Good Things: Jerry Garcia Studio Sessions can be a little exhausting. While there are undoubtedly highlights, each record apart from Cats is uneven, and the addition of wealth of previously unreleased material -- his five albums nearly double their running time with bonus tracks, and there's a whole disc of "Outtakes, Jams and Alternates" -- only highlights the flaws or attributes of an individual album, since the unheard material essentially offers more of the same of the proper album. That means the bonus cuts on Cats Under the Stars are uniformly good, the tracks on Compliments are pleasantly rambling and unfocused, Garcia is strong but heavy on alternate takes, Reflections undistinguished, and Run for the Roses bland; the bonus disc plays like these bonus tracks, with a few highlights, like a nice cover of Warren Zevon's "Accidentally Like a Martyr" standing out amid the alternate takes and winding jams. In other words, the previously unreleased material doesn't pack any revelations -- which is the opposite of the bonus material on the Dead's similar complete studio box set, The Golden Road. They simply confirm existing opinions on these albums, which remain an uneven, yet occasionally endearing, body of work. Of course, that means that All Good Things is for the diehards, the ones who enjoy hearing every scrap of tape that Garcia played, fully aware of the erratic nature of his solo career and willing to purchase an expensive box set with that in mind. They will certainly be pleased with this lovingly produced set, which boasts excellent HDCD remastering, individual digipaks, and a detailed 128-page book that contains an introduction by Robert Hunter, an overview of Garcia's solo career, and individual notes for each album. While it's unlikely that anybody outside of those dedicated fans will find this of interest -- Jerry's albums, when taken together, confirm both your best and worst feelings about his music -- the Dead have always been a band that treated their devoted very well, and this is a box targeted at those very fans. If you know what you're getting into, you will not be disappointed by the quality of All Good Things.