Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Grateful Dead 10: Wake Of The Flood

Three years had passed and three live albums had appeared since their last studio album, and now that the Grateful Dead had their own record label, they decided to capture their newest material without an audience. Wake Of The Flood is far from the acoustic one-two of 1970, as Pigpen was dead and Keith Godchaux was given free rein on all kinds of keyboards. Donna Godchaux can be heard singing, but she’s still mostly in the background.

“Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo” is a fairly low-key start, notable for its saloon piano and especially the prominent fiddle, contributed by bluegrass legend Vassar Clements. Lest we get too carried away, Keith takes his only lead vocal on “Let Me Sing Your Blues Away”. His thin voice is no match for the dated sax that honks all the way through the tune, but at least it’s short. Despite an intriguing intro, “Row Jimmy” just as slow, even for the Dead, but it’s a grower, if you let the song emerge from underneath the phased electric piano and gurgling clavinet. Even lovelier—and yes, slower—is “Stella Blue”, the words given space to breathe alongside the chords.

Side two begins tentatively as well, but the chorus of “Here Comes Sunshine” redeems the lyrics, and never quite gets close to ripping off the Beatles. The tune that sounds most like the Dead is “Eyes Of The World”, slathered with Jerry’s lead guitar dancing in between the vocals and harmonies, setting audiences positively atwirl. Then Bob Weir finally gets a chance to shine, and he does, with the 12-minute “Weather Report Suite”. A pretty “Prelude” leads into “Part 1”, with the pedal steel nicely rolling alongside the organ. The lyrics for this part were written with Eric Andersen, and the overall effect is preferable to “Part 2—Let It Grow” (written with usual Weir collaborator John Barlow), which gets more frantic, punctuated by brass and what sounds like strings. The saxophone comes back for an extended solo, and indeed Martín Fierro would join the band on tour before being relegated to Jerry’s solo bands.

Wake Of The Flood is okay for mid-period Dead, but some of the blandness that affected so many of their contemporaries in the ‘70s is evident here. The eventual expanded CD actually enhances the listen, thanks to a complete solo acoustic “Weather Report Suite” demo, alongside an outtake of “China Doll” and a live “Eyes Of The World” that stretches to 17 minutes. When the fiftieth anniversary of the album came around, however, these were eschewed for home-organ-with-rhythm-box demos of “Eyes Of The World” and “Here Comes Sunshine” added to the disc with the album, and six tracks—running 71 minutes in total—from a November 1973 show on another. It’s fairly sleepy for the first half hour, picking up speed in “Playing In The Band” but unfortunately Donna is singing in a different key. (To be fair, everyone seems off-pitch on “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo”.) And as they did with Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty, this was preceded by the digital-only Wake Of The Flood: The Angel’s Share, which gathered two-and-a-half hours of session outtakes.

Grateful Dead Wake Of The Flood (1973)—3
2006 CD reissue: same as 1973, plus 3 extra tracks
2023 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition: same as 1973, plus 8 extra tracks

1 comment:

  1. Pretty sure that's Jerry playing (sloppy) slide guitar, not a pedal steel on Weather Report Suite (Part 1).