I’ve now had two “dad knew what he was talking about” moments at Brooklyn Bowl within the last year. The first, during the Grateful Dead’s 50th Anniversary shows in Chicago over last Fourth of July weekend watching Trey Anastasio fill the role of late great Jerry Garcia, and doing it quite well at that (at which moment I couldn’t help but think that Dad would have to think, Courtney was right too).
The second occurred back at Brooklyn Bowl on May 10 for the Day of the Dead album release, listening to my beloved Wilco’s rendition of St. Stephen. Hearing that guitar lead in to the verses — “do doo do do do do dooooo… “ – I couldn’t help but be transported into my living room growing up, Dad gesturing in line with that melody, me rolling my eyes, the appreciation – no, admiration – nonetheless instilled. For me, the Grateful Dead was a band to revere thanks to Dad’s guidance. Not having experienced a live performance outside of recordings or ever having had the enjoyment of assessing a fresh album with other fans (à la what I’ve felt this month sharing impressions of Radiohead’s new album), my reverence was of a somewhat distant nature.
That’s the beauty of the Day of the Dead album, out now. Re-imagined for a new audience, the album celebrates classic Dead songs in interpretations true to the contributors’ own sounds. Here, Uncle John’s Band sounds distinctly Lucius (differentiating it wonderfully from the less deviating duet the Indigo Girls contributed to the 1991 tribute album, Deadicated). The typically twangy Black Peter is simply gorgeous with the richness of Anohni’s vocals and yMusic’s strings and woodwinds. New Speedway Boogiewas never a favorite of mine, and I can’t say that I’ve really gotten into Courtney Barnett despite the great critical acclaim, but the combination has me hearing both anew.
I even find it refreshing that Mumford & Sons took an electric, fluid and seemingly slower approach to Friend of the Devil when a more traditional instrumentation and tempo would have been the obvious way to go. Itself a cover that the Grateful Dead made a signature song among their repertoire, Morning Dew sounds as if it were intended for The National’s Matt Berninger’s brooding croon.
As much as I’m enjoying old favorite songs, I find I’m enjoying something new from some of my favorite musicians (Jim James, Jenny Lewis, Sharon Van Etten, Luluc, Bela Fleck and aforementioned Wilco to name just a few) as well as discovering musicians who hadn’t been on my radar (Moses Sumney, DeYarmond Edison, Unknown Mortal Orchestra and others) but for whom I already have regard given the company they keep here.
59 tracks by over 60 varied artists comprise this almost 6-hour long compilation. Streaming options are available, but purchases will benefit the Red Hot Organization in support of fighting HIV/AIDS and related health issues around the world. Whether you’re a fan of the Dead or any of the artists participating in the project, I encourage you to give it a listen. I expect you’ll find yourself enjoying a new take on an old favorite, or at least a new artist to follow.