Billy & Terry Smith

Long Live the Dead: A Tribute to the Grateful Dead

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The most interesting tributes are those in which the artist does some honest-to-God interpreting instead of sounding like a slavish imitator. An excellent example is Long Live the Dead, which finds singers Billy and Terry Smith putting a Southern spin on the music of the Grateful Dead. Best known in bluegrass circles, Billy and Terry discovered the Dead's music by accident: they heard the New Deal String Band (a bluegrass outfit) doing "Friend of the Devil" before they heard the Dead do it, and they became hip to Jerry Garcia through his work with mandolin virtuoso David Grisman. So when the singers entered a Nashville studio to record this 1996 CD, they embraced the Dead's songs on their own creative terms. Indeed, their acoustic-oriented interpretations of favorites like "Casey Jones," "Sugar Magnolia," "Friend of the Devil," "Sugaree," and "Uncle John's Band" sound like the work of a Southern group, not a product of the Bay Area hippie culture of the '60s. Long Live the Dead proved much too raw and earthy for '90s country radio, but that doesn't erase the fact that this is an inspired country-rock-folk effort that both Deadheads and lovers of Southern roots music can appreciate.

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