The Grateful Dead drew deep from the well of American music to create their unique blend of folk-rock. A menagerie of styles, blues, bluegrass, old-time country, and jug band music, formed a solid base for over thirty years of musical exploration. It will perhaps strike some people as odd, but many of the Grateful Dead's influences would be identical to those that helped to spur the late-'50s folk revival. Son House and Lightnin' Hopkins would be brought to the Newport Folk Festival in the mid-'60s, while Furry Lewis would be familiar to many from the Anthology of American Folk. The Roots of the Grateful Dead offers a number of songs that directly influenced or were covered by the band, including classics like "Deep Elem Blues" and "It Hurts Me Too." The Mississippi Sheiks add fiddle to the bluesy "Sitting on Top of the World," bringing a lovely world-weariness to the piece. Cliff Carlisle delivers the frequent Grateful Dead show closer, "Going Down the Road Feeling Bad," while the Noah Lewis Jug Band offers a lively take on "New Minglewood Blues." One would be remiss for not mentioning the superb version of "Katie Mae" by Lightnin' Hopkins, and the Stanley Brothers' performance of their bluegrass standard, "The Fields Have All Turned Brown." Catfish has bypassed the usual liner notes for more pertinent brief bios of the performers who appear on the album. While this collection certainly elucidates the roots of the Grateful Dead, it also works as a great bunch of songs. The Roots of the Grateful Dead will perk up the ears of deadheads and non-deadheads alike.
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Review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.