New Riders of The Purple Sage long ago evolved beyond just a simplistic take on the Grateful Dead’s Workingman’s Dead/American Beauty phase. With the blessing of John "Marmaduke" Dawson, NRPS’ original chief songwriter and frontman, the group has been spearheaded in recent years by erstwhile bandmembers David Nelson and steel guitarist Buddy Cage; in their hands NRPS of the new millennium transcends faux Americana by linking up with authentic blues, rock and country elements.
Documented in pristine sound on this double cd recording by Bob Matthews and Betty Cantor, audiologists of vintage Dead recordings, these New Riders are equally at ease with the original material of Marmaduke, such as “I Don’t Know You” and “Louisiana Lady,” as they are the Rolling Stones’ “Last Time.” The traditional “Fennario” (from which Garcia/Hunter’s “Dire Wolf descends) sounds of a piece with “Long Black Veil" (performed by Johnny Cash and included on The Band’s first album). Both boast an economy offsetting the weathered vocals of guitarist/songwriter/singer Nelson (once a candidate for The Dead) and guitarist Michael Falzarano (who’s worked extensively with Jorma Kaukonen and Hot Tuna over the years).
With its sharp replication of the original New Riders’ cover art an accurate reflection of the music itself recorded at Mexicali Blues Café (except for the often abrupt track changes), this modern-day version of the band proves itself to be not just an extension of the (seemingly) bottomless roots of The Grateful Dead, but a worthwhile endeavor its own terms.