Posts Tagged ‘phil lesh


The Grateful Dead – American Beauty

Anyone ever watch “Freaks and Geeks?”

It was probably the best and most honest show about high school that I’ve ever seen. Less drama and more insane awkwardness than you could hope for, it was so good that the network canceled it after one season.

Because why wouldn’t they?

The people who made that decision are probably the same people who signed “According to Jim” to it’s third season.  But I digress…

The series finale of “Freaks” has the main character discovering the Grateful Dead, and one of the heads loans her “American Beauty.”  Her hippy guidance councilor sees her with it and says something like “Ahhhh….American Beauty.  I wish I’d never heard it, just so I could hear it again for the first time.”

And that kind of sums up the nostalgic feeling the album invokes.

Released at the end of 1970, the Dead’s fifth album ranks among their best along with “Workingman’s Dead.”  It also included one of the band’s biggest and most recognizable hits, ‘Truckin’…which I believe was only toppled by 1987’s “Touch of Grey.”  It was during that late 80’s resurgence that my generation was reintroduced to the magic of the Dead. ‘Ripple,’ another great song from “American Beauty,” was voted as our class song at our high school graduation.

There were a lot of stoners in my class.

But, the album was also great for a number of other reasons.  Recording had begun only a few months after “Workingman’s Dead” was completed and the band found themselves without their veteran sound crew.  The Dead had been scheduled to participate in the Medicine Ball Caravan Tour, but had to back out…the crew was still on board though and had to go on without them, taking producer Bob Matthews with them.  That’s when staff engineer Stephen Barncard stepped in to the empty producers seat and started making magic.

The album was also marked by a notable absence of guitar work by Jerry Garcia, who had switched over to the more country tinged feel of pedal steel guitar work that became a signature sound on the record.  The recording also took a historically awesome twist when Garcia ran into mandolinist and songwriter David Grisman at a baseball game and invited him to play on the record.

Such was the beginning of a musical partnership that would last until Garcia’s death in 1995.

All history aside though, “American Beauty” stands as a wonderful testament to what the Dead played best: American music, in all it’s varied glory.  From the opening strains of ‘Box of Rain’ to the closing tune of ‘Truckin,’ the album meanders like a country road leading to a barn dance.  It was the first time the concert staples ‘Sugar Magnolia’ and ‘Friend of the Devil’ were heard, and the last album to feature Micky Hart when he took a four year break from the band.

If you never heard an actual Dead album, this is the place to start.  If you have, it’s a good time to hear it again for the first time.  Buy it now!!!

(NOTE: And if you look at the title on the album by Kelly-Mouse Studios, it can also be read as “American Reality.”…Pretty cool!)


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