Grateful Dead

The Best of the Grateful Dead

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Only the second major career-spanning retrospective of the Dead, The Best of the Grateful Dead -- released in the spring of 2015, just before a series of farewell shows in the summer -- takes advantage of the extra disc 2003's The Very Best of Grateful Dead lacked. Weighing in at 32 tracks -- a full 16 cuts longer than Very Best -- The Best of the Grateful Dead also follows a strict chronological sequence, so it takes a little while for the psychedelic haze to lift and the Dead to settle into the rangy, rootsy groove that characterized so much of their existence -- right around "St. Stephen" and "China Cat Sunflower," both from 1969's Aoxomoxoa. From there, many -- but by no means all -- of the group's warhorses are marched out, all in their studio incarnations. This structure perhaps invites some griping about their sometimes ill-advised attempts to ride commercial waves -- there's no disguising the disco diversion of "Shakedown Street" -- but by celebrating the warts and providing space for that unexpected late-'80s commercial comeback, The Best of the Grateful Dead is a good capsule history of a band that usually defies such straightforward narratives.

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