REVIEW: Grateful Dead: Workingman's Blues
Grateful Dead: Workingman's Dead [reissue] [Warner 1970/Rhino 2003]
Three words? Very unexpected Dead
As far as I was concerned, Workingman's Dead was going to be an easy review. I mean, it's the Grateful Dead, right? So that means meandering guitar jams and half-hour bass solos, and lots of 'em, right? All it would take was a few sentences on how their music was obviously a sonic manifestation of an LSD trip, and the review would practically write itself.
And then I actually listened to the album. And found that I could not have been more wrong. Rather than hearing something that would be the musical embodiment of Max Yasgur's farm (and some festival that was held there in 1969), Workingman's Dead is the sound of a band going back to the farm themselves, foregoing all the experimentation (both musical and otherwise) of the psychedelic counterculture in favour of a much rootsier sound. Songs like "Uncle John's Band" and "Dire Wolf" wouldn't have sounded out of place on the Byrds' masterpiece from a from years earlier, Sweetheart Of The Radio, while "Easy Wind" and "New Speedway Boogie" are both nice pieces of blues-rock. There's a definite laidback feel to Workingman's Dead, but rather than letting that translate into soundtracks for a dozen acid trips (literally), here the Dead simply sought to create songs that could be listened to by listeners in any state of mind. "Black Peter" may be the most mellow song I've ever heard, but it doesn't use that as an excuse to go on forever. For anyone who thinks that the Grateful Dead were a band more noteworthy for their endless tour than for their musical accomplishments, Workingman's Dead is a very convincing counterargument.