Various Artists

Swingin' to the Grateful Dead

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A bizarre outgrowth of the martini craze and the fedora craze -- themselves unfortunate tangents of the cocktail nation craze -- the swing music fad that crested in the mid- to late '90s was responsible for Big Bad Voodoo Daddy's 15 minutes, as well as an upswing in bookings for the Brian Setzer Orchestra. Vitamin Records' Swingin' to the Grateful Dead was apparently released to capitalize on this short-lived kick. Sporting zoot-suited, finger-popping skeletons on the cover and words like "jumpin'," "jitter," and swing on the back, the collection includes 12 instrumental versions of Grateful Dead songs, performed in numerous jazz-based styles. But for a subject with so much potential material, producer Steve Marsh and arranger Jim McMillan's choices are curiously lacking in melody, making some of the inclusions here unmemorable. The big band productions of "Touch of Grey and "Friend of the Devil" suggest Lawrence Welk, while "Eyes of the World" and "Cumberland Blues" are reminiscent of cruise ship dinner music -- nice for the background, but ultimately boring. Things brighten a bit with the rollicking Dixieland jazz arrangements of "Casey Jones" and "US Blues," and "Scarlet Begonias" projects a sunny Latin vibe that's hard to resist. But the collection was essentially only relevant for a specific moment of pop culture folly, and once that moment passed, Swingin' to the Grateful Dead became pure novelty. This release is also available as part of a three-volume set from CMH that includes two discs of the Pickin' on the Grateful Dead series, compiling bluegrass takes on Grateful Dead classics.

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