Thursday, March 25, 2010

Up and Down the Left Coast with New Riders of the Purple Sage

As you may have read in my sole "Dead" related WW&W post, that I am a Dead neophyte and with trepadation I am plunging my birkenstock-clad dirty toe into this insular world of endless jams, bluegrass psychedelia and unfathomable depths of concert recordings. My plan is to take bite-sized, shall we say brownie-sized doses, of Dead-related albums and classic Dead albums before I start affixing bumper stickers to my thoroughly unDEAD Subaru. According to a cool cat I met in Austin named Mark, I need to get some live Dead from 1972-73. Recommendations of albums of boots to track down?

Many thanks to Scott for tipping me off to the New Riders of the Purple Sage debut album which I found in Portland on my last trip. Not a difficult album to find by any stretch, but well worth it. This a great listen all the way through and seems like a gateway album to fully immerse oneself into the Dead world. I swear the second song on the album, "Watcha Gonna Do" has the same intro riff as a track from "American Beauty". To me, this albums sounds like a more stoney version of The Byrds "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" and that's just fine with me. It also has the great tune "Portland Woman" and being from Portland I can tell you that there are not many songs about the City of Roses. I remember listening to Huey Lewis' "Heart of Rock 'n Roll" waiting for the part where they list off cities that have the "heart of rock 'n roll" because Portland made the cut!

So, I did a brief little search and discovered that NRPS were basically created as a vehicle for Jerry to wail on his slide guitar in a more countrified fashion that the normal Dead oevre would allow. The two auxillary players that would form NRPS were songwriter and acoustic guitar player John "Marmaduke" Dawson (featured in the car next to Jerry) and David Nelson on electric guitar alongside Dead members Garcia, Hart and Lesh. The story goes that Jerry wanted to practice his slide guitar and frequently joined Dawson at a Menlo Park coffee house. These gigs eventually resulted in this band and a few tours with the Dead before NRPS really separated and became their own band. I don't mean to blasphemy, but it seems like they needed that Dead influence as their later albums pale in comparison to this first one. But we can't neglect to mention that Dawson wrote all of these great tunes on the first album, so it would be a mistake to look at NRPS as merely a Dead curiosity.

New Riders of the Purple Sage - Portland Woman
New Riders of the Purple Sage - Dirty Business
I also included "Dirty Business" from their debut album which is a great tune with interesting lyrics that really breaks away from the obvious hippie-country terrain and really drifts off into some spacey territory. This is the kind of Dead material that I'm interested in hearing more of.

New Riders of the Purple Sage - L.A. Lady
It's too perfect to include L.A. Lady from a later album to get the full West Coast tour covered. You can already hear that their sound changed significantly from this first album to their later work (Scott warned me of this already, but this tune is still pretty great).


Anonymous said...

Well shit howdy cowboy! "Cool cat" Mark from SXSW here. Obviously, if you're talking Dead Country, picking up the remastered "Workingman's Dead" is a must if you haven't picked it up yet. "Europe '72" is seriosuly mainstream Dead, but introduces many folks to a wonderful openness in their previously claustrophobic sound with tons more space than they had ever allowed in before. The Tampa, FL '73 show captured on Dicks Picks Vol 1 is nice and airy too.

As for new music in this vein, but without the crusty patchouli stank, check out Kevin Barker's "You and Me" album that came out a few months ago. Otto Hauser on drums, Thom Monahan behind the recording console. California Country klassic.

Keep up the good weed, whites & wine!

markdaddywilliams said...