Jerry Garcia / Merl Saunders

Keystone Encores, Vol. 2

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Keystone Encores, Vol. 2 is the fourth in a set of archival releases drawn from performances at Berkeley's Keystone in 1973. Although Merl Saunders (who brought these recordings to light) gets top billing, the real attraction here is Jerry Garcia. Garcia's vocals and dexterous guitar playing shine, with Saunders' swirling organ lower in the mix. Bill Vitt (who had appeared with Saunders and Garcia on 1972's Heavy Turbulence) and John Kahn (then a member of Old & In the Way) are primarily here for support, laying down a foundation of drums and bass that never threatens to eclipse the two stars. The four songs featured here, all covers, are bluesy numbers peppered with the kind of country pickin' that the Grateful Dead covered on occasion, though without that band's intricate interplay. Dead fans should find these songs of interest, though in the wake of dozens of archival Dead releases it's not a compulsory purchase for any but Garcia completists. As might be expected, the songs here are deceptively loose, with Garcia and Saunders trading some tight solos in the middle, especially on "Hi-Heel Sneakers" and "Mystery Train." "It's Too Late (She's Gone)" slows things down to good effect, while an unlikely cover of the Holland-Dozier-Holland classic "How Sweet It Is" proves to be the album's sweetest treat. Spreading these performances over four separate releases doesn't do collectors any favors, but at least they can be acquired fairly cheaply. If you spot this in a bargain bin somewhere, it's worth picking up, since the recording quality is better than a bootleg and the performances are all of professional calibre.

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