Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Jerry Garcia 4: Old & In The Way

All the way back in 1973, mere months after jamming with the Merl Saunders Band, Jerry swapped his electric guitar for his trusty old banjo and hooked up with some friends to play pure bluegrass music. Dubbed Old & In The Way after one of the tunes in their repertoire, selections from a live set recorded that October were eventually released on the Grateful Dead’s Round Records subsidiary. It’s remained (mostly) in print ever since, and as a result, Old & In The Way probably did more to expose a new generation to bluegrass than any other album released during the last quadrant of the 20th century.

Of course, these just weren’t your average friends out for a strum. Longtime sideman John Kahn plucks the upright bass, David Grisman is on mandolin, and Peter Rowan handles the guitar and most of the lead singing, as well as writing most of the songs that weren’t already standards. In a move akin to getting Roy Orbison into the Traveling Wilburys, the fiddle is handled by the legendary Vassar Clements. (They have a lot of fun blowing through his “Kissimee Kid”.)

If you’re looking for Dead music, or even anything like Garcia’s other solo projects, you’ll be disappointed, particularly as none of the songs found their way into Dead sets. Instead, this is just damn fun bluegrass. “Midnight Moonlight” and “Panama Red”—both by Rowan—are possibly the best-known songs from the set, with the possible exception of “Wild Horses”, the Stones song taken even further into the woods than the Flying Burrito Brothers had.

While the band wasn’t around for very long, the archives have been kind to those looking for more of the same. A year after Jerry’s death, David Grisman’s Acoustic Disc label issued That High Lonesome Sound, containing further songs from the same night Old & In The Way was recorded, including a wonderful arrangement of “The Great Pretender”, along with songs from a set at the same location the week before. This was followed a year later by Breakdown, presenting a further assortment of tunes, most of which were alternate takes to the songs already on the other two. (Both sets from the October 8 show were released as Live At The Boarding House in 2008; five years later this set was expanded to include both sets from the week before.)

Old & In The Way Old & In The Way (1975)—4
Old & In The Way
That High Lonesome Sound (1996)—
Old & In The Way
Breakdown (1997)—3

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