The Grateful Dead - American Beauty (1970)

The Grateful Dead were an American rock band renowned for their lengthy musical improvisations in concert. 
1970's Workingman's Dead had revealed The Grateful Dead's new sound, that of rootsy Americana. They quickly followed this with American Beauty, recorded and released in the same year, which continued in that vein. Fusing elements of rock, folk, country and bluegrass, they managed to not only better Workingman's Dead, but produce what is generally considered a roots-rock masterpiece.
Even more so than Workingman's Dead, it played down their 'jam band' reputation, with little to no improvised passages and minimal solos from lead guitarist Jerry Garcia. Instead the focus was fully on the songs, which were the best they had written. Almost all the songs were written by Garcia and lyrical collaborator Robert Hunter, though "Box Of Rain" was by Hunter and bassist Phil Lesh, "Sugar Magnolia" by Hunter and rhythm guitarist Bob Weir, and "Truckin'" was credited to all four of them. "Friend Of The Devil" was written by Hunter, Garcia and John Dawson. Ron McKernan also contributed his solo composition "Operator", which he sang lead and played harmonica on. This one song proved to be his only major contribution to the album - he was becoming less and less of a contributing member of the band, especially when it came to studio recordings. Elsewhere, Phil Lesh sang his first lead vocal on "Box Of Rain" (also playing the song's acoustic guitar), which opened the album.
In the studio, the band were assisted by various musician friends. Mandolin player David Grisman played on two songs, and extra keyboards were contributed by Ned Lagin and Howard Wales. Bassist Dave Torbet and guitarist David Nelson appear on "Box Of Rain" - Torbet, Nelson and John Dawson (co-writer of "Friend Of The Devil") were performing as the Dead's opening act under the name New Riders Of The Purple Sage, with Garcia on pedal steel and Mickey Hart on drums. Their debut album would come out in 1971. As well as these extra musicians, Garcia's newly-learned pedal steel guitar talents embellished several of the tunes, giving them a distinctly country feel.
The resultant album was undoubtedly one of their best, receiving considerable airplay and reaching #30 on the charts. Many of the songs became instant Dead classics, most notably "Truckin'", "Ripple" and "Friend Of The Devil", still today their best-known tunes. Though it was really far removed from the electric improvisational jam-rock style they played in concert, it nevertheless struck a chord with both their existing fans and the wider public. With American Beauty, the Grateful Dead managed to create what is truly a 'classic album'.
It was their last studio album until 1975 to feature drummer/percussionist Mickey Hart, as he took a three-year break from the band in February 1971.
Workingman's Dead (1970) <|> Grateful Dead (1971)
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KDNYfm said...

Not sure why, but I ignored the 'Dead' for a long time. But once I got the hook ( a couple years after this album was released)I was impressedwith all the different things they did.
This was one of the albums I foolishly let go in one of those fits of digitally induced temporary insanity. So the only thingI 've had available for several yars was a mix I did on cassette from the few albums I had.
Thanx for re-kindling thi one for me!

Katy said...

I had never listened to the Dead until this month. This was the first album that I've listened to. I am so impressed that I can't wait to get my hands on another one.