Sunday, March 27, 2011

Zimmer's Picks: Dead Covers

Words By Andy Zimmer

To consider the incredible arc of the career of the Grateful Dead is a pretty impressive thing. Starting from humble roots, but quickly thrust into a role as counter-culture icons, the Dead cut their teeth by pushing back against the status-quo. At the time, in the mid-60’s, “straight” society viewed the Dead as standing for something very “un-American”, possibly dangerous, and definitely subversive. Whether true or not, the boys in the band were never fazed by the quizzical looks of those stuck on the outside looking in. Their vision need not appeal to the masses, and they were uncompromising in the creation of their art. Forty-plus years later, those of us firmly entrenched in the “Dead Community” are still letting out joyful, collective “Thank yous!” However, perhaps the most intriguing detail in the long saga of the Dead is how they have become part of the fabric of America. Without changing their tune, conforming to the norm, or compromising their ideals; the Dead went from rogues on the outskirts of society to becoming part of Americana itself. Today, the Grateful Dead represent something that is truly American. With the spirit of pioneers, and the vision of dreamers; the Dead have left an indelible, tie-dyed stamp on our nation.

With this in mind, I thought it would be appropriate to pay homage to the Dead by virtue of their peers... fellow musicians. I have compiled some of my favorite Dead tunes covered by other artists. Some of these artists have been mainstays in the “Dead Family”; some seem to have very divergent musical interests. However, they have all been connected, and moved, by a common theme... a thread that connects all of us... the music of the Grateful Dead.

First up is Adrienne Young, a folksy musician based out of Charlottesville, VA. Over the course of her short career, Young has worked with The Old Crow Medicine Show, Levon Helm, and Mark Sanders. Her cover of “Brokedown Palace”, off of her second album titled “The Art of Virtue”, gets me every time.

Wake the Dead is a Celtic-tinged Grateful Dead cover band based out of Northern California. These folks have been around for a number of years and bring a fresh perspective to classic Dead tunes. Give a listen to their take on “The Wheel”.

Catherine Russell is a female blues and jazz vocalist from New York City. She has toured with the “who’s who” of the music industry; including Paul Simon, David Bowie, and Steely Dan. Additionally, she has graced stages from the Kennedy Center in D.C. to Yoshi’s in San Francisco. In this clip, Russell is putting her spin on “New Speedway Boogie”. She gets a little help from Larry Campbell, a legend in the folk-blues-rock scene and established “Dead Family Member”.

My next two choices hardly need any introduction, as they are both icons of country and western music. For decades, Lyle Lovett and Willie Nelson have had major success in the Nashville music industry... and with good reason. Both are exceptionally talented, and credible, performers. Here is Lovett’s take on “Friend of the Devil”, and the Red Headed Stranger lending his voice to “Stella Blue”.

Admittedly, I’m not incredibly familiar with the Decemberists, an indie rock outfit from Portland. But I do find myself enjoying their version of “Row Jimmy”.

Finally, our look into Dead covers could not be complete without throwing a bone to Jazz is Dead. With an original lineup comprised of Jimmy Herring, Alphonso Johnson, Billy Cobham, and T Lavitz; Jazz is Dead have serious street-cred... and the chops to back it up. If you are not familiar with them, Jazz is Dead simply plays ass-kicking, instrumental versions of Dead tunes. Listen to this excerpt of a ’98 show, where they put their spin on “Help on the Way”, and you will see what I mean.

I hope you have enjoyed what you’ve heard. If so... remember to support these incredible musicians!


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