In Garcia: An American Life, biographer Blair Jackson describes a rare instance of Jerry Garcia's playing an actual solo performance -- just him and his guitar alone on-stage -- and makes it clear that Garcia did not enjoy the experience. In addition to his work with the Grateful Dead, Garcia did shows with many other fellow musicians in many different configurations and in several different musical styles. But he almost never performed by himself. This release in the posthumous Pure Jerry series pares the accompaniment down as far as Garcia felt comfortable going: he is joined only by bassist John Kahn, who was a constant in his non-Grateful Dead bands over the years. Playing acoustic guitar, Garcia turns in a set that is strikingly similar in content to the Grateful Dead's "unplugged" Reckoning album recorded five-and-a-half years earlier. Six songs sung by Garcia with the Grateful Dead on that live recording -- "Deep Elem Blues," "Dire Wolf," "Jack a Roe," "Oh Babe, It Ain't No Lie," "Bird Song," and "Ripple" -- are among the 12 selections here. It's understandable that Garcia would want at least the underpinning of a bassline to fill out the sound, since he doesn't really change his approach as a soloist, continuing to play single-note leads as if he were fronting a band instead of only one other player. Nor does he step up in terms of presentation, simply going from one song to the next with little more than the occasional "thank you" in between. "Friend of the Devil" is taken at a slower tempo than usual, and the only tune given a really long improvisatory section is "Bird Song." It would be nice to be able to report that on what is the closest thing to a real solo album in Jerry Garcia's catalog, he took the opportunity to rethink and rearrange his music, but that's not the case here. Still, Garcia fans will welcome the unusually stripped down nature of the performance. It really is as close to "pure Jerry" as they are likely to get.
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