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Jerry Garcia: The Jerry Garcia Collection Vol.1: Legion of Mary

Aaron Leitko

The fickle line that divides 'Essential Document' from 'Opportunistic Filler Release' is only a shade lighter than that which separates 'True Fan' from 'Layman'. Or in this case, Deadhead from dilettante.

Jerry Garcia

The Jerry Garcia Collection Vol.1: Legion of Mary

Label: Rhino
US Release Date: 2005-08-23
UK Release Date: 2005-09-12
Amazon affiliate

The tricky thing about evaluating live albums is that their perceived value is often entirely dependent on how devoted a fan one is of the given band. The fickle line that divides "Essential Document" from "Opportunistic Filler Release" is only a shade lighter than that which separates "True Fan" from "Layman".

Or in this case, Deadhead from dilettante.

The Jerry Garcia Collection Vol.1: Legion of Mary documents several performances by the "jazz flavored" solo group that Garcia toured with while the Dead were on hiatus during the mid-'70s. Backed by organist Merl Saunders, bassist John Kahn, drummer Ron Tutt and Saxophonist Martin Fierro, Legion of Mary was conceived by Garcia to provide a performing environment with which he could escape from the pressures and musical limitations of his life with the Grateful Dead. The resulting material compiled here on two high-definition audio CDs reflects these intentions in a series of laid back extended jams that move quickly into the solos and stay there.

Looking to branch away from the strict folk rock curriculum of the Dead, Garcia kept the Legion of Mary set lists relatively clean of his own compositions, and nary a one is included on this CD. Instead the discs concentrate on the band's penchant for exploring styles that were relatively foreign to Garcia at the time. Although a few token country rockers make the cut, such as Dylan's "Tough Mama", the songs included here are mainly soul and R&B covers. Legion of Mary digs deep into classic tunes like Smokey Robinson's "I Second that Emotion" and Ray Charles' "Talking About You", soloing extensively and often drawing things out for ten minutes or more while everybody takes their turns in the spotlight.

But is it any good? Not really.

With the high-definition transfer perfectly portraying every string scrape and feedback squall, hardcore Jerry-ites will no doubt find much to love preserved on these discs. Yet anything less than the most passionate fans will just find themselves bored to tears.

Although "Tough Mama" starts the set off on a relatively strong note, fervor for the Legion of Mary quickly dies down as it becomes evident that every tune on the album is going to be performed at a jam-happy snails pace. Solos are mainly handed to Garcia who, despite several fine moments, tends to plumb the same territory on every pass. There's little to distinguish his musings on "I Second that Emotion" from his extended improvisations on "Let it Rock". When the cup finally gets passed to Fierro, the listener is subjected only to limp hits filtered through a wah-pedal, and watered down melodies so tame that they wouldn't sound out of place being played by the Saturday Night Live Band.

True-believer Deadheads will no doubt cry out to the contrary that these discs represents a vital period of Jerry Garcia's solo career, and proclaim the record to be filled with enlightened playing. For them perhaps it is. Yet like any number of Immaculate Virgins that appear miraculously pictured in any number of trees, flowers or potato chips, sometimes you have to be a true believer to see it.


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