By James Calemine
Originally captured to two-track digital audio tape straight from the board, the enclosed recordings preserve the complete Jerry Garcia Band performance in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at the Bradley Center on November 23, 1991.
Garcia produced the original recordings. Dean Budnick wrote the liner notes to this graceful release. At the time, Garcia was 49. He covers the guitar and vocals. The rest of the group included Gloria Jones (vocals), John Kahn (bass), David Kemper (drums), Jacklyn LeBranch (vocals) and the great Melvin Seals (keyboards). The release is the first in a series to commemorate the year of Garcia’s 75th birthday.
Set One opens with the vintage Garcia/Hunter tune “Cats Under The Stars”. The group then morphs into another Garcia classic, “They Love Each Other”. This version of Eric Clapton’s “Lay Down Sally” captures the JGB operating at a zenith. Garcia always loved to play The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and this rendition may be one of the best. Another tune from Garcia’s solo album Cats Under The Stars, “Rueben and Cherise”, the band fires on all cylinders with a gospel-fueled incandescence.
The group performs two more covers in the first set–Jesse Stone’s “Money Honey” and Charles Johnson’s “My Sisters and Brothers” with deft precision. To close the first set, they play the classic “Deal”, and it’s already obvious this is an essential volume to own for any Jerry Garcia fan.
Set Two begins with Van Morrison’s “Bright Side of the Road”, and then Bruce Cockburn’s “Waiting For A Miracle”. The McCracklin/Malone number “Think” resonates on various musical levels. However, the gem of these covers stands as “Shining Star” the Manhattans hit, and it sounds great to hear Garcia and the band reconstruct this popular song with their own magical twist. “Ain’t No Bread In The Breadbox” finds the group exercising their musical dexterity as well as a Garcia favorite “That Old Lucky Sun”. The final cut, Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up In Blue” seems to conjure time travel from 1973 to 1991 and beyond.
When Garcia died four years after this performance it was Dylan who wrote this about Garcia: “There’s no way to measure his greatness or magnitude as a person or as a player. I don’t think eulogizing will do him justice. He was that great – much more than a superb musician with an uncanny ear and dexterity. He is the very spirit personified of whatever is muddy river country at its core and screams up into the spheres. He really had no equal.
“To me he wasn’t only a musician and friend, he was more like a big brother who taught and showed me more than he’ll ever know. There are a lot of spaces and advances between the Carter family, Buddy Holly and, say, Ornette Coleman, a lot of universes, but he filled them all without being a member of any school. His playing was moody, awesome, sophisticated, hypnotic and subtle. There’s no way to convey the loss. It just digs down really deep.”
Dylan’s words remain true, and Volume 8 verifies The Jerry Garcia Band’s timeless soul.