The Grateful Dead's third studio effort was also the first that the band did without any Warner Bros. staff producers or engineers hampering their creative lifestyle and subsequent processes. As they had done with their previous release, Anthem of the Sun, the Dead were actively seeking new forays and pushing envelopes on several fronts simultaneously during Aoxomoxoa (1968) -- which was created under the working title of "Earthquake Country." This was no doubt bolstered by the serendipitous technological revolution which essentially allowed the Dead to re-record the entire contents when given free reign at the appropriately named Pacific High Recording facility. As fate would have it, they gained virtually unlimited access to the newly acquired Ampex MM-1000 -- the very first 16-track tape machines ever produced -- which was absolutely state of the art in late 1968. The band was also experiencing new directions artistically. This was primarily the net result of the budding relationship between primary (by default) melodic contributor Jerry Garcia (guitar/vocals) and Robert Hunter (lyrics), who began his nearly 30-year association with the Grateful Dead in earnest during these sessions. When the LP hit the racks in the early summer of 1969, Deadheads were greeted by some of the freshest and most innovative sounds to develop from the thriving Bay Area music scene. The disc includes seminal psychedelic rockers such as "St. Stephen," "China Cat Sunflower," and "Cosmic Charlie," as well as hints of the acoustic direction their music would take on the Baroque-influenced "Mountains of the Moon" and "Rosemary." The folky "Dupree's Diamond Blues" -- which itself was loosely based on the traditional "Betty & Dupree" -- would likewise foreshadow the sound of their next two studio long-players, Workingman's Dead (1969) and American Beauty (1970). The too-trippy-for-its-own-good "What's Become of the Baby" is buried beneath layers of over-indulgence. This is unfortunate, as Hunter's surreal lyrics and Garcia's understated vocals languish beneath the soupy sonics. In 1972, Aoxomoxoa was overhauled, and the original mix -- which includes several significant differences such as an a cappella vocal tag at the tail end of "Doin' That Rag" -- has yet to be reissued in any form. When the title was reworked for inclusion in the Golden Road (1965-1973) (2001) box set, three previously unreleased and incomplete studio instrumental jams -- respectively titled "Clementine Jam," "Nobody's Spoonful Jam," and "The Eleven Jam" -- as well as a live rendering of "Cosmic Charlie" from a January 1969 performance were added as "bonus material(s)."
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AllMusic Review by Lindsay Planer