Despite the Grateful Dead's reputation for blistering live shows stoked during their Haight-Ashbury salad days by second-set electric freakouts like "Caution - Do Not Step on Tracks" and "Cryptical Envelopment," lead guitarist Jerry Garcia always retained his jugband sensibilities. In collaboration with luminaries such as Vassar Clements and David Grisman, or on his own, he routinely looked to the fertile canon of American folk and bluegrass for quieter fare, as showcased on this rare solo acoustic set recorded at Oregon State Prison on May 5, 1982. Enhanced by surprisingly good sound quality, and undiminished by a voice that occasionally deserts him, Garcia's bone-dry delivery on this selection of covers and original material including Spartan reworkings of Elizabeth Cotten's "Baby, It Ain't No Lie" and Grandpa Jones' "Been All Around This World" is liable to send a chill up the spine of Jerry-philes and roots music aficionados alike. It's hard to resist Garcia's earnest pick session on the Dead's standard Civil War ditty, "Jack-a-Roe," about a woman who dresses like a man so she can go to war, crooning "my waist, it may be slender, my fingers may be small, but it would not make me tremble to see ten thousand fall." On the dirgeful blues of "Valerie," his ghostly thin voice whistles over the strings of his guitar like dust through the streets of Cannery Row: "I went downtown with my pocket knife…I cut your other man, but I spared his life." The recording reveals an appreciative audience for Garcia as he quietly spins campfire tales that are equal parts violence and redemption, populated by a tragi-comic pastiche of cowboys, drifters, and vagabond lovers blown across some Twilight Zone, turn-of-the-century Abilene the OK Corral, by way of O. Henry.
AllMusic Review by Andrew Vance