Jerry Garcia - Lead Guitar
Bob Weir - Rhythm Guitar
Phil Lesh - Bass
Mickey Hart - Drums
Bill Kreutzmann - Drums
Keith Godchaux - Keyboards
Donna Jean Godchaux - Vocals
A true Grateful Dead upset. I was hoping I would never have to say that. But an amazing and consistent band like The Grateful Dead have their low points. This Terrapin Station is the worst piece of work The Grateful Dead had put out in my opinion. Oddly enough, others believe it isn’t half as terrible as Go to Heaven
or Built to Last
. However, I believe that those people are both wrong (Though it is merely their opinion.), and that Go to Heaven
and Built to Last
are actually quality albums. Though nothing comparable to other Grateful Dead albums.
My first impression of Terrapin Station
about eight months ago was nothing but fabulous. It is presented with a beautiful cover. Featuring two Terrapin (turtles) playing music together. One playing a banjo, the other a tambourine while dancing. The two Terrapin play their instruments on top of a dock attached to a railroad station, (or a “Terrapin Station”) which lies in back of a railroad track. In the sunny weather, they dance and play their instruments along side their tools. Not it is that description that would give off the great idea that this album is strongly based upon Roots music. Like The Dead’s Roots hit, Workingman’s Dead
. However, the album’s music sadly shows no resemblance to Roots music.
The Grateful Dead’s 1977 release is strongly based on African American influence. The essence of Funk, Soul, Rhythm & Blues, Urban, and Motown are scented throughout Terrapin Station
. Though not expected, it is certainly good to see The Grateful take in lesser heard influence, but they simply dabble in genres they should definitely ignore, or at least take a different approach to.
The line up featured on this album is quite good, but nothing unexpected by this review. Terrapin Station
features the Godchaux couple. Each with amazing talent, and both helped to define The Grateful Dead’s spectacular mid to late 1970’s live performances. The two drummers, Mickey and Billy are included. And instrumentally, they do great. And Jerry, Phil, and Bob do a fabulous job instrumentally also.
The album really only has two highlights. The multi part “Terrapin Station: Part 1”. Which is where Jerry Garcia finally adds his vocals, and saves the album from complete destruction. And the fabulous and interesting arrangement of the traditional “Samson Delilah”. That surprisingly holds up on record. Each of the other songs do not greatly pass the mediocre level. And if they do, I must be feeing generous, or have had a change of thought.
A very Urban opener. The sounds of the city is quite a good description if you ask me. Bob Weir takes the lead vocals, and had also written the lyrics. Of course with writing partner John Barlow though. The album is lead by an odd, and an effect induced bass line by Mr. Lesh. The line could easily be by the keyboard though, it is very hard to tell. Jerry Garcia also uses a mess of effects. Each sounding more weird than the next. Bob vocals are usually hit or miss with me, but he does an acceptable job here. Donna Jean Godchaux lends her vocals to back up Weir. Her voice is a nice breath of fresh air. A trumpet solo is featured in this opener. It is surely not needed and in no way helps the song, but I do guess it matches the vibe of the track. Nothing the spectacular.
Dancin’ in the Streets
Here is of course a cover of the classic original partly written by Marvin Gaye. I must say The Grateful Dead do a fabulous job covering it live. It is filled with great grooves and a particularly fantastic vibe. But of course, it’s energy does not stand on record. The Grateful Dead certainly should have not included this annoying, odd cover on the album. The lead vocals are shared by Donna Jean and Bob. Their voice blends okay, but the combination of the instruments featured is definitely not appealing. The percussion is interesting, but the drumming done does not flow well with it. Instrumentally, the song is surely superb. But I dislike the choice of brass instruments. They take away from the natural Grateful Dead sound. Which is hard to describe, but prior to this album, no matter what genre they played, the sound was easy to point out.
“Passenger” was mostly written by Phil Lesh. Well, the lyrics are good, and instrumentally is solid, but not appealing. The lyrics are sang in complete unison., with Donna’s voice easiest to hear. The song resembles a Hard Rock tune. It is strongly guitar based, and what is mainly heard is Weir playing chords. I do believe I occasionally hear Jerry playing a slide in the back ground. So, that is most certainly a plus. Other than that, the track is really nothing special. Just kind of pointless. I have heard many better songs from Phil Lesh. And oddly enough, the song only runs at two minutes, and forty eight seconds. Which is of course very short for a Grateful Dead song.
Samson & Delilah
Another strong live tune! But unlike like the portion of this album, the number is moderately strong on record. The song is greatly influenced by Soul. Bob takes the vocals once again, and does a good job. He is also supported by very powerful and beautiful back choir. The song is filled with some fabulous guitar solos, and the lyrics tell a great story. Whenever a band can tell a good story through a song, and of course back it up with a little technical ability, they are destined for success and liking. The chorus like the backup vocalists , are all strong. The lyrics are simple, but their wording is almost irrelevant. They simply state “If I had my way, I’d tear this old building down!”. It’s the amount of attitude used that makes those sections interesting. Good song.
Here lies an annoying song. The vibe is supposed to be filled with much mystique, but fails. The background sounds like an disturbing cross between Led Zeppelin and Heart. Two bands I can not stand. Donna Jean Godchaux takes the lead all for herself. The voice does sound great (Though better live), but nothing can save the terrible feel, and personality to the song. The song has quite large production. With various smooth sounding stringed instruments and sound effects. But that only makes the song worse than it would have been without. Probably the lowest point of the album.
Terrapin Station: Part 1
Following Terrapin Station’s
lowest point, is it’s highest point. Not only is this track fabulous on record, but it is fabulous on stage. Garcia finally lends his vocals to this epic, and adds so much more than Bob or Donna would. The beginning is based upon a nice high pitched riff, and supported by some quality piano playing. The song has many different parts. They would be “Lady with a Fan”, “Terrapin Station”, “Terrapin”, “Terrapin Transit”, “At a Siding”, “Terrapin Flyer”, “Refrain”. It also runs at a very long sixteen minutes, and twenty nine seconds. The first section would have to be the highlight for me. Jerry sings only verses, not one chorus. But he does take time to add in a spectacular short solo. The next section entered is similar to the first, just more soothing and beautiful. Following the previous, the band goes into a jam resembling one of The Who combined with Jethro Tull. Decently heavy, and almost medieval. It in no way resembles anything from The Grateful Dead though. To large of a production, but still nicely listenable. The oncoming sections feature writing from Garcia, his long time writing partner Robert Hunter, and the drummers - Mickey Hart and Billy Kreutzmann. The remaining amount of time is completely instrumental. Through the song (minus the beginning two sections), like I said, the music sounds nothing like The Grateful Dead, but they luckily do a great job. Filled with interesting key and tempo changes. And various songwriting techniques. Amazing and epic conclusion.
One more to go!