The Jerry Garcia Band ‘Garcia Live Volume 11 -11/11/93’ Documents Final East Coast Sojurn (ALBUM REVIEW)

Each and every Garcia Live vault release carries its own mark(s) of distinction and Volume 11 is no exception. Recorded in Providence, Rhode Island on what would be the Jerry Garcia Band’s final East Coast sojourn,  the two-CD set captures band’s most acclaimed line up in 1991 on a followup to their biggest arena tour to that date. The six-piece ensemble is in fluid motion performing at the Civic Center whose home represented something akin to an off-Broadway venue for the group, midway between Boston and New York City. Clearly, this venue that had inspired the Grateful Dead for decades had much the same effect on the JGB. 

One of the main attractions of Volume 11 is the appearance of the rarely-performed Van Morrison song “He Ain’t Give You None” from the Belfast Cowboy’s 1967 debut solo album. Graced with supple singing from Gloria Jones  and Jacklyn LaBranch plus, there is noticeably more Melvin Seals piano than organ in the arrangement. There are other novelties here in terms of material and otherwise too, indicative of the JGB’s willingness to freshen setlists otherwise firmly grounded with the likes of  Bob Dylan’s “Simple Twist of Fate,”–here in all its gentle melancholy– a cull from Jerry’s other good ol’ band “Deal” and the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence.” 

A tune emanating from the pen of West Coast maverick harmonica/songwriter Norton Buffalo (who had an admirable tenure with Steve Miller), “Ain’t No Bread in the Breadbox,” for instance, has bouncy tempo tailor-made for JGB, not all that far removed stylistically from this encore, an electrified bluegrass version of Peter Rowan’s “Midnight Moonlight:” Jerry Garcia originally played on the self-titled 1975 album by the highly influential bluegrass ensemble Old & In The Way.

Whether or not the latter selection constitutes an act of prescience on the bandleader’s part or not, therein lies an almost perfect logic to its choice: November of 1993 would be Jerry Garcia’s last performance in Providence. Thus, a song inspired by the folk and bluegrass foundation from which he began his career in the early 1960s takes on an even more profound significance than its apt placement as punctuation to a delightful well-paced two-set concert. 

Hearing two collaborations of Garcia’s with lyricist Robert Hunter open the show (“Cats Under The Stars,” “Mission in the Rain”) only reaffirms Jerry’s admiration for great songwriting, a staunch persuasion reaffirmed with the subsequent inclusion near mid-show of a pair of tunes by William “Smokey” Robinson (”The Way You Do The Things You Do” and “When The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game”); the aforementioned Nobel Laureate from Minnesota reportedly once referred to the author of the latter as ‘America’s greatest living poet,’ but those melodies from the leader of Motown’s Miracles are as well-wrought as the lyrics, a combination that no doubt enticed the titular leader of the Grateful Dead.

Blair Jackson contributes a lengthy essay within the booklet enclosed in this Garcia Live package and reaffirms his rare abilities as a writer as well as knowledge of his subject. The piece authored by Jerry Garcia’s biographer (Garcia: An American Life) is a direct reflection of the relaxed but potent musicianship that inspires it. Not only can the prose of this Garcia biographer contain as much insight as information, but this author can also parlay a play-by-play of a performance that communicates the real-time experience: Jackson channels all the remembrances great music can evoke, completely bereft of any sense of rote reporting. 

While John Cutler’s original recording lacks some of the warmth of previous editions in this Round Records series, Fred Kevorkian’s mastering nevertheless brings out enough audio nuances to render moot the caveat on the back cover regarding sound quality. So, as on “That’s What Love Will Make You Do,” there’s no missing how Jerry Garcia’s solos sparkle against the surety of his accompanists’ support, (particularly the unspectacular but steady drummer David Kemper), and even the frontman’s tried-and-true road companion Kahn steps out on the excerpt from Blood on the Tracks: the notes he coaxes from the low register reverberate clear and clean. 

Opening to rapturous audience acclaim, the penultimate cut,“Don’t Let Go,” is one of six cuts out of thirteen in double-figure duration on Garcia Live Volume 11, further illustrating why the moniker of this unit was the ‘Jerry Garcia Band:’ every member plays his role to the hilt, not just the man from whom the name derives. It must then be a deliberate design that, at the center of this eye-pleasing color scheme on the digi-pak’s cover, an artist’s rendition of this contemporary music icon depicts him smiling ever so broadly behind the shades he so favored.

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