Jesse McReynolds & Friends – Songs of the Grateful Dead

by Chuck Dauphin

OK….this title might throw you for somewhat of a loop, but if you are a true fan of Jesse McReynolds and the Grateful Dead, it might not be that much of a stretch. First of all, Jesse has always pushed the musical envelope, going back to his days as one-half of Jim & Jesse. The two recorded some material such as “Memphis, Tennessee” and “Thunder Road,” that was quite daring for Bluegrass Music at the time. And, Jerry Garcia’s love of Country and Bluegrass has been well documented over the years, so this project is not as much of a stretch as you might think.

Still, it probably stands as the most adventurous project of McReynolds’ illustrious career, but he pulls it off quite nicely. With special guests Stu Allen (JGB Band) and David Nelson (New Riders of the Purple Sage, McReynolds has put together an album that defines the term “Roots Music,” and should figure very well in Grammy and Americana Awards contention next year.

The set kicks off with “Mack Muddy River,” which features some beautiful mandolin work from one of the masters in McReynolds.  Then, there’s a nice restrained take on “Ripple.” Both of them have a very pristine Bluegrass sound, lulling you in. Then, the tempo is raised a little bit with “The Wheel,” which McReynolds, Steve Thomas, and Sandy Rathman give a very adventurous arrangement to, but it works. Nelson handles the lead vocals on the latter two with fine ability

That same approach comes across on “Franklin’s Tower.” I’ve been doing these reviews for about ten years, and words fail me on describing this one. To sum it up, I will just say it will put a smile on your face. The stretches outside of the comfort zone continue with “Fire On The Mountain,” and the cool groove of “Deep Elam Blues,” which features the great Buck White on the piano.

Sometimes, the straightest line between two points is a song. Jim and Jesse knew this by cutting songs made famous by Chuck Berry, and Jerry Garcia knew this as well, cutting a few Country classics throughout his career, such as Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried.” Maybe, just maybe, we’re not all that different after all!

For more on Jesse McReynolds, go to www.jimandjesse.com!

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