For the truly Dead-icated Grateful Dead enthusiast, Rare Cuts and Oddities 1966 (2005) might be comparable to the recovery of lost Biblical relics, shedding light and providing a valuable context for the works to come. It certainly can't be argued that the band -- which consisted at the time of Jerry Garcia (guitar/vocals), Ron "Pigpen" McKernan (vocals/harmonica/organ/percussion), Bob Weir (guitar/vocals), Phil Lesh (bass/vocals) and Bill Kreutzmann (drums) -- would take what they developed here and go on to create much more substantial, if not genre-defining, music. Likewise, upon hearing the flood of ideas crammed into these energetic selections, there is no doubt that a sonic synergy is occurring and rapidly maturing into its own unique beast. The 18 tracks are split fairly evenly between studio demos/rehearsals and performances, all recorded at some point circa 1966. None of these would have been captured at all if not for the forethought and general curiosity of Owsley Stanley, who became their benefactor and sound man during this seminal era. He pieced together an amplification system for the combo and in order to get a sense of its strengths and weaknesses, he also taped their live gigs. Some of those have circulated among fans and -- as Rare Cuts and Oddities 1966 proves -- many others haven't. Especially in terms of sound quality that could be considered audiophile by comparison to the oft-traded fare. The Grateful Dead's set list points primarily to the members own specific tastes -- such as McKernan's obvious affinity and penchant for the blues, or Garcia and Weir's folkier leanings. There are also early originals, including McKernan's "You See a Broken Heart," Garcia's "Cream Puff War" -- with alternate lyrics -- as well as the group-derived "Standing on the Corner." The incendiary, blazing and ferocious "Caution (Do Not Stop on Tracks)" tumbles out of a brooding and stinging overhaul of James Moore's "I'm a King Bee" for a total of a quarter-hour long fusion of the Grateful Dead's patented blues-a-delia. Fittingly, that combination concludes the compilation, as the story resumes from here on the double-CD Birth of the Dead (2003). Notably, a few of these entries remained in their repertoire, specifically "Not Fade Away" and "Good Lovin'." Here, the latter moves at a breakneck speed that gets them through both verses and a chorus in under a minute (no lie!) and the former bears an unrelenting Bo Diddley groove that seems to have dissipated over the years. The majority of the tunes stayed in the lineup until new, fresh material began to take their place -- particularly when Robert Hunter joined the fray the following year.
AllMusic Review by Lindsay Planer