Jerry Garcia

Garcia/The Wheel

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A decade before being remastered and retrofitted with eight additional "bonus" tracks, guitarist and Grateful Dead figurehead Jerry Garcia's (guitars/bass/keyboards) solo debut was released on compact disc in (of all places) Germany on the Line Music GmbH imprint. While the early digital transfer found here might lack the fidelity of the 2004 upgrade, the contents remain timeless. After agreeing to re-up with the Warner Bros label, the Grateful Dead's Garcia, Bob Weir (guitar/vocals), and Mickey Hart (percussion) were given the go-ahead to create respective solo projects. Garcia took the endeavor to heart providing the acoustic, electric, and pedal steel guitars, as well as the bass, piano, organ, and vocals on his offering, simply titled Garcia (1972). But this is no one-man show, and he is joined by Grateful Dead percussionist Billy Kreutzmann (drums) and the pair is armed with a particularly potent batch of lyrics from Garcia's primary songwriting partner Robert Hunter. The results speak for themselves as the legacy of Garcia/The Wheel -- aka Garcia -- would provide the classics "Deal," "Bird Song," "Sugaree," "Loser," "To Lay Me Down," and "The Wheel." Each of these numbers became staples in the Grateful Dead's ever-expanding live concert canon for the remainder of their nearly 25-year touring career. Although considerably more efficient in these seminal studio arrangements, their respective essence remained as the tunes otherwise matured on-stage. The range of styles on the Garcia project is impressive and simultaneously mirrors the artist's considerable malleability. Nowhere is that as evident as the contrast between the midtempo chugging opener "Deal" to the intimacy of "To Lay Me Down," or the heartfelt balladry infused into "Bird Song." These comparatively traditional tunes are then abandoned for the extended instrumental trifecta of "Late for Supper," "Spidergawd," and "Eep Hour." Although Garcia would modestly refer to these works as "overindulgent" in later years, they are experimental in much the same way that the Grateful Dead's free-form "Space" improvisations were often constructed around a perpetually unraveling melody or sonic texture. Again, parties wishing to hear Garcia in its most complete and aurally fulfilling edition should turn their attention to the 2004 remastered version -- which is available as part of the All Good Things (2004) box set as well as on its own.