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The album story
THE BARE BONES
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chas bogle at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Grateful Dead, enduring giants of San Francisco ‘60’s psychedelia.
So the roots and influences to be
found on Persuasions of the Dead are truly sweeping:
Appalachian folk, blues, bluegrass, R&B, “old timey,” jazz,
gospel, streetcorner, African-American call-and-answer, country,
rock ‘n’ roll, soul, hamboning, even avant-garde, musique
concrete, and yes, Chinese folk melody.
But back to “Long, Strange Trip.” This album was twelve years
in the making. It began as project originator Rip Rense’s follow-up
to his previous project for The Persuasions: their critically hailed
tribute to Frank Zappa (who first signed them to a record deal),
Frankly A Cappella.
Rense, who partnered with lead singer/arranger Lawson to guide the
group’s recording career through their award-winning children's
album, On the Good Ship Lollipop, through Frankly. . .
Persuasions Live at McCabe's, was sure the
Persuasions’ vocal wonderment could uniquely translate the Dead’s
songbook for Deadheads and non-Deadheads alike.
The basic sessions for most of
the tracks originally took place in 1999. Lawson was to produce, and
Rense invited David "Grateful Dead Hour" Gans to "help the guys out
if they need help finding a weird chord." Lawson's adaptations were
typically brilliant. Rense's plans to have a few guest artists do
solos turned out well, thanks to Gans (who wound up co-producing
with Lawson) inviting Peter Rowan, Pete Grant, Eric Thompson, Vince Welnick,
and others. Might as Well (Arista, out of print since 2002), was an endearing document of the sessions, but Rense thought it could have been more. Three years ago, he approached Lawson, who had left the group
in 2003, and his ex-colleagues about
re-producing---re-imagining---the whole thing.
The Persuasions were dead-set. . .for it.
Now, expanded to two CDs, with six new tracks, six new guest artists, the sessions have indeed been re-produced, rearranged, remixed, remastered, and as planned, re-imagined, entirely from scratch. Almost every single vocal and instrumental track from every song has been re-auditioned and remixed. There are a few new lead vocals, many tweaked arrangements, added percussion, and an overall overhaul. Persuasions of the Dead also follows the pattern of a Grateful Dead concert, with “first set” (CD 1) of straight-ahead performances, and “second set” (CD 2) of more stretched-out takes, with segues, reprises, surprises. . .
There are even Persuasions versions of the Dead concert staples
of exploratory weirdness, “Drumz,” and “Space.”
“These guys are deep-sea fishermen,” Waits once famously said of The
Persuasions. “I’m just a fisherman in a boat.”
“Having been a fan of The Persuasions since my student
days in Germany in the 1970s, I was aware of their initial tribute
record to the Grateful Dead for a long time,” said ZOHO head Jochen
A lot of that fun comes from
non-Persuasions. While the album is largely a cappella, The
Pers, as they are known to fans, are joined by a host of wonderful
soloists, many with strong links to the Grateful Dead. For
Persuasions of the Dead, Rense invited Jackie LaBranch and
Gloria Jones, longtime back-up singers for the Jerry Garcia Band
(now on seven tracks), Bob Weir & Ratdog lead guitarist Mark Karan, saxophonist James King,
erhu virtuoso Dongming Qiao, vocal trumpeter Alyn Kelley, and an old
friend of The Persuasions and the Grateful Dead: the
great Country Joe McDonald.
“It’s lovely to have the bright, beautiful voices of Jackie and Gloria on seven tracks here, and it’s particularly great to have Country Joe on two,” said Rense. “He’s sort of a musical cousin of The Persuasions and the Dead, as he had The Persuasions on the song, "Doo Wop-Oh," from his 1979 album, Leisure Suite. Then The Persuasions recorded Joe’s kids’ song, ‘I’m So Glad (I’ve Got Skin)’ on their children’s album, On The Good Ship Lollipop. You factor in Joe’s longtime friendship with Garcia, who played on his Superstitious Blues album, and the one or two songs he co-wrote with Garcia’s songwriting partner, Hunter, and it was a familial fit. As was the case with Peter Rowan, Eric Thompson, Pete Grant."
Aside from “Drumz” and “Space,” The
Persuasions recorded two brand new songs for the project, “Don’t
Ease Me In” (an old blues number favored by the Dead), and the
poignant Hunter-Garcia gem, “Stella Blue.” This was no easy trick,
as lead singer Lawson had quit The Persuasions in 2002. That’s
correct, to realize this project, Lawson graciously agreed to reunite with his
old colleagues for “Stella.” This recording marks the very last time the
original Persuasions sang together on record.
Two other songs discarded during the original sessions were rescued and re-worked for the album: “New Speedway Boogie,” and “Greatest Story Ever Told,” and many others were substantially rearranged. In the end, the album is certainly the most ambitious Persuasions album ever made. But it is something more than that. With Lawson’s superb adaptation of Hunter-Garcia’s timeless songs, the many textures and surprises offered by the many guest artists, and the deep, reverberating harmonies of these legendary singers, Persuasions of the Dead transcends the “tribute album” genre.
It’s really the greatest Grateful Dead album the Grateful Dead never made.
And it could get no higher compliment
than this one, graciously offered by Garcia’s longtime partner,
© 2011 Rensart Productions. All rights reserved.