Throughout the late sixties the Grateful Dead had defined the terms Psychedelia and Acid Rock. Which would leave fans and Dead heads guessing when the band lightened their Psychedelic sound and picked up a more classic sound of their roots. Bluegrass, Blues, Folk and Country would now describe the Grateful Dead the best. Since their 1970’s debut, Workingman’s Dead, the group had been performing and displaying there new musical form.
American Beauty is a perfect display of the new genre the Dead fall into at this time, Country Rock. However, unlike the band’s previous release, Workingman’s Dead, the group does not completely abandon their Psychedelic and Acid Rock side. In many tracks, the band will add a touch of the intricate, drug induced material the Dead and bands like Jefferson Airplane and Moby Grape were known for performing in the 1960’s’ San Francisco Psychedelic scene.
Box of Rain
A very emotional song that was created during a very sad time in the Grateful Dead history. The mother of Jerry Garcia, and the father of Phil Lesh had passed away during the writing of the song. Which brings a very sincere attitude to Phil Lesh’s voice as he sings this love tune. Instrumentally, the intro does not disappoint. For the song is greatly layered with nicely played guitars, and there really isn’t much to complain about. A for sure fan favorite.
Friend of the Devil
A wonderful display of the group’s Folk side. Through perfectly timed intertwining guitar playing, and wonderful instrumental harmonizing, the group sets this piece apart from the rest. Not only does this ballad satisfy most instrumentally, but being a ballad, it tells a story. And quite a good. A story if told about a man running from his troubles, but trying to keep optimistic. His hopes of returning to his love are great, but his previous encounter with the Devil set him back mentally. Robert Hunter managed to write this number with very interesting imagery and various other poetic attributes. “Friend of the Devil” is a simply fantastic.
Since my first listen of the Grateful Dead’s greatest hits album Skeletons from the Closet, I have been in love with “Sugar Magnolia”. This simply, but nicely composed Bob Weir song speaks about pure love and good times. It is lead by a very catchy riff that I had set out to learn since my first listen and completely delivers, especially live. The tune contains many different climaxes, but the once that surpasses them all would surely be when Bob Weir unleashes the first solo sung vocal on the song. They make the song that much better.
The first and last track sung by Ron “Pigpen” McKernan on American Beauty. Luckily, it most certainly exceeds a quality rating. “Operator” is a song that can possibly fall under Country Blues. Being that Pigpen is most definitely the “Blues man” of the Grateful Dead, this is no surprises. The boy had grown up in a Black neighbored for most of his short life, and was of course influenced by many forms of the Blues. “Operator” is once again based upon a riff, but does not have the same formula as other that are ran by guitar riffs do. The riff is most easily described as carnival like, but it is slightly irrelevant. For the main focus it Pigpen’s vocals. He does not express much emotion, like on covers of “Good Lovin’” or “Good Morning Little School Girl”, but he does sing the song in a surely plausible manner. The lyrics do not need to be sung emotionally. Either way, it is always a treat to hear the deep, Bluesy, Howlin’ Wolf influenced voice that is Ron “Pigpen” McKernan.
I have always found it funny that a certain number of Grateful Dead songs could easily make a soundtrack for a rapist. “Candyman”, like Pigpen’s “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” would easily make it on the track list. For they both possess a very eerie and sly attitude, like one of a rapist. Not only that, but the music is always slow and soothing and the lyrical content usually/almost reflects the concept. Aside from being a rapist’s delight, “Candyman” is a wonderful and catchy song. It easily sets itself apart from the other tunes musically and attitude wise. Jerry Garcia also does a great job singing the track.
Without a doubt, “Ripple” is one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard. The song opens with a nice, mellow acoustic vibe, complimented on the very interesting lyrics sung by Jerry Garcia. The writing is fantastic and shows throughout the tune. Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia really made a master piece while writing it. As the song moves on, it remains constantly beautiful and very pleasing. Soon enough there is a whole arrangement of back ground vocalists scatting with Mr. Garcia is the most catchiest way possible. “Ripple” is most definitely a delight to listen to.
Once again, an outstandingly emotional track, with a truck load of beauty. “Brokedown Palace” is almost a conclusion to “Ripple”. For “Ripple” fades into “Brokedown Palace” and they share the same vibe. I always prefer to play them back to back. Also, once again, the lyrics are extraordinary. This seventh track is about leaving, for reasons of hurt, and troubles. The imagery, and description are beyond fantastic. Jerry Garcia sings the tune in way that can just make you cry. The band also supports him very well musically. The song wass brought more sadness, when I heard this story. When Merry Prankster leader, Grateful Dead friend and famous writer Ken Kesey had a terrible tragedy (His son had died in a car crash on the way to a wrestling meet.), the Grateful Dead sent him tickets to one of their shows. During the second set, the group turned to Kesey sitting on one of the side stands, and sung “Brokedown Palace” to him. Very kind and interesting. “Brokedown Palace” can easily be the greatest song on American Beauty; its true greatness lies inside of its lyrics.
Till the Morning Comes
A poppier song that reflects the Grateful Dead’s Psychedelic days much more than their current state. This eighth track opens with an upbeat and pleasing opening riff that leads to a group sing along. The song then takes a slower turn and alters the song for a moment. This pleasant switch is made throughout the song. The song is in no way the best on the album, but is definitely pleasing and nice to listen to.
Attics of my Life
Here is a tune that does not compare well to the others. The song is much more slow and blander in a way. The lyrics and expression are very nicely done, but it is musically lacking. The very well written lyrics are supported by a loose rhythm section, which is odd being that the group can definitely keep a steady and good rhythm. It is just a bit boring, but none the less lyrically good.
Most likely the most well known and loved Grateful Dead tune. "Truckin'" is definitely great lyrically and instrumentally. Every instrument is played exceptionally well, and there are no flaws at all. The song is simply about going from town to town by a truck, just being lazy. However, some of the lyrics actually tell stories about the Grateful Dead‘s past. The past criminal record is actually mentioned within the song. Which is of course their run in with the law, due to being squealed on by a friend. Throughout the song many catchy and interesting lines are thrown at the listener. And how can one not recall the most famous “What a long strange trip it’s been”. A perfect conclusion to a fantastic album.
Jerry Garcia - Lead Guitar
Phil Lesh - Bass
Bob Weir - Rhythm Guitar
Ron "Pigpen" McKernan - Organ, Harmonica, etc
Billy Kreutzmann - Drums
Mickey Hart - Drums