GRATEFUL DEAD (SKULL & ROSES)
Grateful Dead Productions
(Expanded Edition 2-CD, 2-LP )
By Ray Chelstowski
Fresh off the heels of having released two milestone albums in Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty, the Grateful Dead earned the band’s first-ever gold record in 1971 with its self-titled live album. Known to many fans as “Skull & Roses,” the original double-LP included songs recorded in March and April 1971 in New York and the band’s hometown, San Francisco. Now as the record turns 50, the band celebrate the anniversary with a special remastered and expanded edition.
Available in a variety of formats, the set includes the original album’s 11 tracks, remastered from the stereo analog masters. It also contains 10 previously unreleased live tracks that were recorded on July 2, 1971, at the Fillmore West, which was the band’s final performance at the historic San Francisco venue.
Both concerts are an interesting representation of the band as a quintet. The original recordings have always had more of a bootleg dynamic to their sound. The remastering has cleaned that up and made the sonics feel more intimate. Bob Weir’s vocals are prominent throughout this expanded box set. Sometimes that works, other times not so much. That, however, doesn’t detract from the band that perform with a connection that is jazz ensemble tight. The groove they deliver is even more impressive when you consider how much ground they cover with each set list. They balance classic rock and roll with some originals, and feather in a fair amount of Bakersfield country — a genre where the band always found a way to shine. They do so on this album as well.
There are standouts like the 17-minute version of “Good Lovin’” and an entire album side that features their 1968 classic “The Other One.” That said this is a remaster that’s best suited for die-hard fans who will quickly appreciate the impact the remastering process has made and who will uncover never-before-heard nuances that the newfound clarity delivers with each track.