Prior to the release of this album, financial problems and not having an album seen as a classic album bothered the Grateful Dead. It took a lot of effort on their own part to release this album, Workingman’s Dead. This is seen as the first of two classic albums delivered by the group in 1970, so let’s see how it sounds.
We begin with Uncle John’s Band which starts with some melodic acoustic guitars and some great harmonic melodies sung by the group. It’s a nice start to a great album with some good percussive sounds. It’s beautiful, music just isn’t made this well anymore. It has some bongo beats and acoustic guitar solos, an excellent tune. It’s a nice, chilled and strong piece to start the album. Excellent listening. The whole piece sounds good, and towards the end the lyrics are sung alone, before the rest of the band comes back in. Brilliant.
Next is High Time which is another acoustic led piece that sounds awesome. Beginning with a lone vocal and strummed acoustic guitar, along with some clean Fender like guitar parts and some mammoth sounding basslines, it is a great melodic and semi-country music sounding piece. The whole thing sounds classy and brilliant. It’s another great song with some beautiful slide guitar as well. Very quiet, but very very good. Sung about living the good life, it is really a great song. Excellent.
Dire Wolf begins with a classy sense of melody and sounds extremely good. It’s a rural sort of musical piece, nice, quiet and with a plea not to be murdered, strangely enough. It’s a strange tale about playing cards with a wolf when they are all Queens of Spades. Yes, this is unusual psychedelic music, but done so brilliantly. It’s such a beautiful tale to listen to. Nice song.
New Speedway Boogie comes next and has some classy Fender Telecaster sounds and a definite groove to it. It’s a great listen and sounds awesome, everything about the piece is brilliant and unique. It’s a catchy and upbeat tune that is very inspired. It’s a great tune, and a definite highlight on this album. “One way or another…” is chanted throughout the latter part of the song. Awesome.
Up next is Cumberland Blues which is a more blues inspired piece that sounds awesome. It has an unusual sense of melody about it, along with some strummed acoustic guitars. It’s a tale of work and other things in life that seem typical of such practices of working hard and having a good life. There is some banjo in this as well, definitely very country sounding music. Excellent stuff.
Following is Black Peter which is an acoustic led tale of easy listening. It’s a slow, but not dull, piece about lying in bed at night. There is some fairground organ in the background, along with some muted percussion. It’s a piece to relax and close your eyes to. A slow and gentle tune, it sounds wonderful and beautiful. It has some good harmonica in it, too. It’s a great rural tune to hear, something that is totally different to the music of today.
Easy Wind is next, beginning with clean guitars and with some choppy drumbeats about working hard on the land. It’s a great tune to hear, and is very very good. There is a harmonica solo in this piece, and it intertwines very effectively with the guitars, which are punchy. The second half is mainly instrumental, and sounds very awesome and well thought out. There are many melodic and rhythmic elements that make this great. The singing then recommences, and finishes the piece nicely, singing about women troubles. Good effort.
Casey Jones is about a metaphorical train driver who is high on Cocaine. Seriously. It’s a weird and good story about the life of said train driver. It’s an interesting story about the good and bad events of doing so. Musically, it sounds very tranquil, with some Fender guitars and well pieced together guitar parts, complete with a slide guitar solo. It’s rather humourous in some ways, but the whole thing is really hilarious. Good song to end the album.
This is a really superb album, and put the Grateful Dead back into the spotlight and the books of musical history as well. Someone once referred to the Grateful Dead as, “country music to trip to”. If that is the case, maybe so. But this is a great album, and a must listen from a musical era long gone.