Listening to the recent Grateful Dead release, “Ready or Not,” revived my enthusiasm for the band’s final batch of original compositions.
Dave Lemieux’s picks are excellent. Finding versions of some of these songs that can stand tall enough to serve as “the official version” is near impossible, but you’d hardly know that from the album. I don’t know what kind of crazy Venn diagram Dave has to dance through to get releases out, but he did a great job with this overdue album. Thanks, pal!
After spinning “Ready or Not” in my car for a week, I was still excited about the songs, but I wanted to change up the versions.
So, I hunted through all the Save Your Face 1990s mixtapes to pull together additional tasty performances of the songs. I’ve compiled the best of those into the mixtape below. (I excluded tracks that I put on an earlier draft of the final album, “Liberty,” which was limited to March 1994 shows. This mix is a far better companion to "Ready or Not.")
The exciting discovery - once you get into a version-comparison situation – is that the band approached several of these songs quite differently over time. That means that I was able to choose some great performances that contrast strongly with those on “Ready or Not.”
For instance, “Way to Go Home” got jauntier as it matured, and Dave nailed a rousing one. The version I’ve included here catches the bass and drums in an earlier, throbbier, heavier place, closer to an early ‘80s “West LA” vibe. It's cool to hear this fine Hunter lyric delivered in both a warning mood and a motivational mood.
Similarly, Dave’s pick for “So Many Roads” is spare and delicate, while the one I’ve included here cruises along in a more forthright rock mode.
Dave found an amazing “Days Between” jam that really pushes outward from the baseline, “Wharf Rattish” norm. I’ve included both live and rehearsal versions that hew closer to that norm.
And how do you choose THE “Corrina?” Dave made the right bargain, choosing one of the longest (possibly the longest of) versions, which includes an amazing jam (possibly the best). The song-parts are a little shaky on that version, but whatever.
To expand the "Corrina" portrait, I’ve included a very snug performance of the song on my main disc, with a sweet, shortish, Garcia-led jam – plus two more exciting, dilated takes on my bonus disc: A very long version from 1995, with Bruce Hornsby and the band having a glorious, messy, time, and an instrumental edit of an early 1994 version, which offers a chillier, more mechanical contrast.
I’ve squeezed in a compact “Matilda” for reasons that will be obvious when you hear it in between “Corrina,” which it usually followed, and before “Liberty,” which it leans toward. I’ve also added the greatest live performance of “Unbroken Chain” (2nd of 10), from the same Hornsby-enhanced show that provides several other tracks for this mix. Phil must be represented, even if he’s not fond of his final Dead compositions!
So, if “Ready or Not” has got you ready for more, here you go.
Album (80 minutes):
- Easy Answers (7/19/94)
- Lazy River Road (7/31/94)
- Way to Go Home (9/21/93)
- Corrina (6/25/94)
- Matilda (7/21/94 debut)
- Liberty (6/25/94)
- Unbroken Chain (3/23/95 w/Hornsby)
- So Many Roads (3/23/95 w/Hornsby)
- Days Between > (3/23/95 w/Hornsby)
- Eternity (6/14/94)
- Samba in the Rain (instr. edit 12/16/94 with Branford Marsalis)
Bonus disc (37 minutes):
- Days Between (2/10/93 Club Front edit of two rehearsal takes)
- Corrina (3/23/95 w/Hornsby)
- Corrina > Jam (instr. edit 2/27/94)
If this Hornsby material gets you excited about that 1995 show, extended highlights are posted here.
Not sure about Dave’s pick for “Easy Answers.” I like mine better - more springy! It lacks a commanding Garcia solo in the instrumental break, but otherwise, it smokes, IMO. “Putdown Street” is one of my favorites from this era. Should have been a show-opener!
If you are interested in these final songs and haven't already memorized the 5th disc of the boxed set "So Many Roads," you need to get serious about all of this.