A return to one of The Grateful Dead’s previous sounds. The sound that help them grasp world fame and be known forever. The sound would be the more jam happy, positive, and almost “hippy” side to them. Don’t get me wrong, at this point in time, it hadn’t been long since they recorded albums resembling that specific sound. It was the median of the depressing Wake of the Flood that divided that interesting side, in my opinion of course. But anyway, this consistent sound is found right in From The Mars Hotel.
The Grateful Dead From The Mars Hotel contains numerous amounts of songs from many of the bands fantastic live performances. There is a very small amount of okay to bad songs. The rest are obviously great. Also, the album contains songs ranging from one emotion to the next. Surprisingly, each expresses the feeling fabulously. Though it is common for me to say almost each Dead album is underrated, I truly believe this one is, possibly even more so than the others.
From Mars Hotel is filled with a selection of rather quirky numbers. “U.S. Blues” puts a smile on my face, with its occasional humorous lyrics, and the odd playing that surprisingly harmonizes extremely well. Like “U.S. Blues”, “Loose Lucy” does practically the same, but has a much more simple feel to it. Each very hard to understand and describe. On top of those two tracks, the album features two of The Grateful Dead’s greatest hits. Those two being the Reggae influenced “Scarlet Begonias”, and the commonly covered “Ship of Fools”. Also, From Mars Hotel presents the rather eerie “China Doll”, which is once again a fan favorite. But oddly enough, the main highlight for me is the overlooked “Pride of Cucamonga”. The sixth track that’s filled with various upbeat grooves, and a fantastic melody, as well as some keen pedal steel playing.
Quite the opening track! The songs opens with very odd instrumental patterns that will play throughout this Robert Hunter/Jerry Garcia piece. Keith Godchaux’s piano playing gives off the odd, yet interesting effect more so than any other instrument. The songs meaning is quite hard to grasp, but it certainly has a United States of America theme. Jerry Garcia takes the lead vocals, but also manages to produce many great lead interludes, that by this time, are almost expected by myself. The recording contains some nice oddities. For instance, Phil Lesh’s bass tone has a very fuzzy sound to it. Similar to one of Jefferson Airplanes/Hot Tuna’s Jack Casady. Fantastic songs, and very catchy.
“China Doll” is definitely a worthy follow up to the previous track. The acoustic featuring harpsichord with holds some of Robert Hunter’s lyrical tricks. The man speaking in his story that Garcia portrays well, has some kind of inner voice, that he commonly speaks to, and gets answers from. A definite schizophrenic personality. Instrumentally, the song is also special. The timing and tempo are certainly to a highlight. No flaws spotted on my part. However, I do prefer “China Doll” played live, opposed to recorded, of course. None the less the songs is beautiful, and one of a kind.
One of the weaker songs on the album. However, it still is quite good. The acoustic guitar work from the beginning till the end is fabulous. Phil Lesh’s writing blesses this number, as does his voice. His voice sounds fabulous one this album. Much more listenable than his previous vocal appearances on, perhaps “Box of Rain” off of American Beauty. Phil’s bass lines are of course perfect. He is one of the few members you can never complain about. The piano work by Keith leads the song. The mixture of chords played lead the song very nicely. During a certain point in the song, the band switches tempos, and slightly take a genre turn. The song during that upcoming solo is very Jazz influenced, and free in a way. The drumming is also very good. Billy adds the right amount of energy exactly when the song needs. And on top of that all, Donna adds some lovely back up vocals. This song really gets better every time I listen to it.
A quirky upbeat number! Garcia takes the lead on “Loose Lucy” and seems to have the perfect personality to sing the song in an interesting way. A guitar riff is played throughout this catchy tune, and is also catchy. The lyrics are quite odd and pretty hard to understand. Most of Robert Hunter’s lyrics are very complicated. They usually have many literature references, Bible quotes, and history stories. For instance, “Franklin’s Tower” is about Benjamin Franklin’s work on inventing a bell making process called “Dewing”. Hence “Roll away the dew” which is a method used in the process. But anyway, “Loose Lucy” is surely a highlight. It is instrumentally, and in all ways up to par to the best of this album.
“Scarlet Begonias” is one of The Grateful Dead’s most loved songs. It was frequently played live, sometimes even besides it’s similar “Fire on the Mountain”. Both Grateful Dead classics are highly Reggae influenced. Which easily sets them apart from many other Dead tunes. For those who are ignorant to The Grateful Dead, you may have heard Sublime’s cover of the song. They performed the song pretty well, if you ask me. “Scarlet Begonias” is much more interesting when done by The Grateful Dead of course. Though it only runs at about four minutes on this album, the song vents much improvisation live. The feel and instrumental work is some of the best on the album. The lyrics are quite good also. Well, even though this is a very strong recording (It even has some harpsichord playing, I believe), it is without a doubt and of course better when performed live, like more Grateful Dead songs.
Pride of Cucamonga
A very duller sounding track, yet it is by far my favorite. Phil Lesh wrote with his writing partner Robert Peterson. Lesh also sings the track, and does a very well job. He had quite a voice back in the day, and still has a quality one now. Which is greatly shown on There and Back Again by Phil Lesh & Friends. The beat and Country/Beach like vibe makes the song definitely stand out in my opinion. A pedal steel guitar is played almost throughout. The pedal steel player would be John McFee, not Jerry Garcia. I’m not 100% sure, but I believe McFee took the place of Garcia is The New Riders of The Purple Sage when Jerry left the band with Phil and Mickey Hart. He is a very talented player. Fabulous song all around.
Here is one of the other weaker points on the album. Though is isn’t as good as the previous weak point, it is still pretty good. It is a Bob Weir and John Barlow piece, who usually write good, but occasionally make some screwy songs instrumentally and melodically. This song has a good side and a rather cheesy side. The main cheesy part of the track would be the background vocals. Which is a stacked section of woman vocalists. Weir’s vocals are pretty good, as is the song instrumentally. But it doesn’t exactly hold up otherwise. The song is just a little better than mediocre, if not lower.
Ship of Fools
The conclusion and highlight to most. This epic and well known Grateful Dead was heavily popularized by other acts covering it. Some being The Doors, and Elvis Costello. Though, I like those version, I prefer this. Garcia takes lead vocals, and expresses the perfect emotion. So, the vibe and mystique to the song are really added to by the vocals. Phil Lesh’s lead bass lines surely give the song a strong foundation, and both Garcia and Keith Godchaux switch off on lead. “Ship of Fools” in the lyrical department is very strong. This song is sometimes looked at as a Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia highlight among some the rest of their amazing writing. Though, “Ship of Fools” is not the greatest point during From Mars Hotel, it is an epic. And will hopefully be looked at as some of The Grateful Dead’s best work in far later years. A beautiful exit to an fabulous album.
, but my decision is likely to change.
Well, that is now officially all of the studio album, unless I forgot another one :p.
Jerry Garcia - Lead Guitar
Bob Weir - Rhythm Guitar
Phil Lesh - Bass
Billy Kreutzmann - Drums
Keith Godchaux - Keyboards
Donna Jean Godchaux - Vocals