September 19, 2005
This is not just another recording from the Dead’s bottomless concert archive. It’s the soundtrack to their spirited 1989 Fourth of July performance in upstate New York (also now available on DVD). The musicianship is sharp and exuberant, and the material showcases everything from Dead classics (“Cold Rain and Snow,” “Terrapin Station”) to root influences (Robert Johnson’s “Walkin’ Blues,” the mento standard “Man Smart, Woman Smarter”) while avoiding warhorses from American Beauty and Workingman’s Dead. Distinctive, joyous boogie grooves (“Bertha,” “Deal”) and mellow ballads (“Row Jimmy,” “Looks Like Rain”) alike receive first-rate treatment. The superb mix even polishes their homespun vocals while retaining their character. Ah, the marvels of modern post-production techniques.
Jerry Garcia’s lead guitar dances synergistically with the rhythm section. Whether sweet or fiery, his signature runs pause and leap with delightful precision. He rips things up on “Deal,” and turns in a soulful bridge in “Ship of Fools.” “All Along the Watchtower” invites impossible comparisons, but not being Hendrix is no crime, and Jerry rocks on the track. Bob Weir more than holds his own with prominent rhythm counterpoint to Garcia’s slide in “Walkin’ Blues.” Weir’s own slide in “U.S. Blues” is buried in the mix, which doesn’t seem to be a problem. Rhino.