Merl Saunders and Jerry Garcia

Merl Saunders and Jerry Garcia

Merl Saunders and Jerry Garcia

Keystone Companions: The Complete 1973 Fantasy Recordings

Fantasy

Wow. This is some NICE packaging! Cardboard box outside, inside a button and a matchbook (no matches, just post-its, but still…), the Commemorative Beer Mat, and mandatory note book insert, all to help you enjoy these four impressive discs of Garcia’s musical styling with Merl Saunders on piano. Who’s Merl Saunders? Just one of the finest funk/ jazz keyboard artists of the early 1970s. He began his career writing cigarette commercials, but when they were outlawed he drifted west and began jamming with Jerry Garcia, not realizing who he was. They became close friends, and while they only performed on stage a few times, their mutual influence was profound.

This four-disc collection remasters the session Saunders and Garcia recorded in 1973 at Fantasy Studios, and it’s beautifully done. The sound is pure and well balanced; it’s free of artifacts or drop outs or loss of the highs that so often plague these archeological revivals. You can feel Saunders’ influence in the tracks chosen; they stray from the jug band sound of the Dead to unexpected rock and pop classics such as “I Second that Emotion,” “Positively 4th Street,” “The Harder They Come,” and even “My Funny Valentine.” This was one of Garcia’s most productive periods, and the coupling with Saunders clearly expanded his already wide horizons.

Saunders’ keyboard work is solid, but not intrusive. On almost all of these tracks it’s Garcia’s flash guitar that dominates. In the back we hear Bill Vitt on drums and John Kahn on bass, and even though they were never in The Dead you still feel they “got” the sound. It’s in a slightly different groove, but like any Dead cut it’s always coherent, even as it feels as if it’s about to fall apart.

Nearly all these tracks are enjoyable; the only weakness is the overly long ramble of “Merl’s Tune.” It was never released until this collection, and I call that a wise choice on the producer’s part. Other than that nit, this is one of the coolest re-issues I’ve held in a long time, and it’s a must for that aging Deadhead in your life.

Fantasy Music: fantasymusic.com

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply

Recently on Ink 19...

  • Gregg Allman, RIP
    Gregg Allman, RIP

    Michelle Wilson gives tribute to the voice of an angel. Gregg Allman, RIP.

  • Preservation Hall Jazz Band
    Preservation Hall Jazz Band

    So It Is (Legacy). Review by Bob Pomeroy.

  • From Montenegro to Moldova: The Best of SEEFest 2017
    From Montenegro to Moldova: The Best of SEEFest 2017

    For the twelfth year, the South East European Film Festival (SEEfest) in Los Angeles showcased an impressive lineup of new features and shorts. Lily and Generoso Fierro provide a festival wrap up and their picks for the films that you cannot miss.

  • Justin Townes Earle
    Justin Townes Earle

    Kids In The Street (New West Records). Review by James Mann.

  • Christian Scott
    Christian Scott

    Rebel Ruler (Ropeadope / Stretch Music). Review by Bob Pomeroy.

  • Kivanç Sezer
    Kivanç Sezer

    Turkish director Kivanç Sezer’s powerful debut feature, My Father’s Wings, puts the spotlight on the workplace safety crisis that is currently taking place in his homeland. Lily and Generoso Fierro spoke with Sezer at SEEFest 2017 about his film and his need to draw attention to this issue.

  • Temples
    Temples

    Supporting their just-released sophomore record, UK synth-pop poster boys, Temples, attracted an SRO crowd to one of Orlando’s premier nightspots.

  • Rat Film
    Rat Film

    Baltimore. Rats. A match made in Maryland.

  • Bishop Briggs
    Bishop Briggs

    Bishop Briggs brings a stacked bill of up and comers to Orlando for a sold-out party at The Social. Jen Cray joins in the fun.

  • Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World
    Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World

    There’s more than black music influencing the evolution of Rock and Roll. Native American rhymes and ideas are every bit as significant, once you know to look for them.

From the Archives