A Tasteful Resurrection

Gifts from the Dead (Cedar Glen Music)
Various Artists

By Jim Conway

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a big fan of instrumentals. Maybe it was all those vacations with my parents, trapped in the family Caprice, being force-fed endless hours of Montovonni-esque "beautiful music."  Most would probably understand the negative connotation dull, soulless interpretations of popular music had on my teen-age psyche.  I mean after all, what kind of bastardization do we have here where middle-aged muzak-makers have the nerve to stray from the intent of the original artist? 

Luckily for everyone, I'm not that self-righteous anymore, and I'll admit there are some instrumental collections that make sense, like Gifts from the Dead.  What producer Fred Bogert intended to do here was take the feel and spirit of twelve Grateful Dead classics, and process them with a crack ensemble of Nashville finest mountain musicians. So, somewhat like Dylan's Nashville Skyline project, let's remove the compositions from their Bay area launch pad, and transplant them on the banks of the Cumberland River.

There's no doubt Bogert understands that it's one thing to release a tribute CD that counts on numerous Dead Heads wanting to add something to their collection, but it's entirely another to have said collection receive the blessing of actual Dead family members Merl Saunders, Vince Welnick, and Vassar Clements, who contribute instrumentally throughout.

Standout performances are turned in by violinist Clemmets and David Angeli, who recently contributed to the Dixie Chicks' Fly, and Faith Hill's Faith.  The melody lines they both provide bring an underlying melancholy to tracks like "Deal" and "Black Muddy River." Welnck provides a classical feel on the piano intro to "China Doll," with the arrangement fulfilling a delicate interplay of piano, flute (played by Bob Bowers), and violin. Bob Mason's cello completes what must be a dream quartet which should garner more attention.

"I Know Your Rider" receives the mandolin and recorder treatment courtesy of Pete Huttlinger and Bowers respectively, providing the listener with a bluegrass interpretation miles removed from the original. To be honest there's not a bum cut on this disc, with the only downside being with a 12-song format, your favorite Dead song may be missing.  However, considering the loving craftsmanship Fred Bogert and company made possible here, it would be hard for die-hard fan not to latch on to this tasteful collection.