Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders: Garcia Live Volume Six: July 5, 1973

Their partnership lasted about four years and 250 shows but a new archival record suggests that it was some of the best music either Merl Saunders or Jerry Garcia made at the time. And just who is that mystery trumpeter?

Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders

Garcia Live Volume Six: July 5, 1973

Label: ATO
US Release Date: 2016-06-24
UK Release Date: 2016-06-24

Garcia and Saunders' Improvisational Abilities Shine on New Archival Gem

Merl Saunders and Jerry Garcia first performed together in December 1970. Between then and June 1975 they clocked 250 gigs. Saunders issued the LP Heavy Turbulence in early ’72 and, although credited solely to him, it features Garcia on all tracks and reflects the repertoire of their live shows from the era. The following year brought Fire It Up and two volumes of live performances from San Francisco’s the Keystone in July. Given the reputation and power both men had as great improvisers at the time, it’s little surprise that the Keystone records are regarded as the apex of their recorded output. (Until now.)

A total of eight official releases from that partnership exist, including a 1974 date from the Keystone. But this one, tracked at the small-ish Lion’s Share just after Independence Day ’73, is the one that takes them all. Garcia had not fallen into the deep end of hard drugs just yet and the rhythm section of Bill Vitt (drums) and John Kahn (bass) could follow along just fine with both he and Saunders. The song selection is choice and the group sounds hungry for new musical heights.

The record opens with a magical rendition of J.J. Cale’s “After Midnight”, weaves into an equally potent “Someday Baby” and stretches out across an 18-minute “She’s Got Charisma” that finds Garcia delivering some of his most potent and lyrical playing from that year. He works the thicker registers of his guitar tones for the most part, something that would become less a part of his sound as the decade wore on. His lines move everywhere from blues to jazz to space rock and everything in between. Vitt responds to these excursions with rhythms and fills that are both supportive and reactive while Saunders weaves his way in and around his partner, rising and falling with the rest of the ensemble in the perfect sync that made the Keystone recordings such a pleasure to hear.

The group tempers the more amorphous tendencies of that track with a more straight-ahead but no less blistering, soul-stirring take on “That’s Alright Mama”. In the track’s later moments, Saunders let loose some of his most inventive and urgent playing, driving the band to a conclusion that will induce smiles no matter how many listens one undertakes.

Things get freakier, funkier and dirtier come the second disc, especially when Saunders takes lead vocals on “The System”, wherein divisions between one instrument and the next disappear and the collective mind of the band reaches a boiling point. Thankfully the set doesn’t climax there. “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” finds Garcia reaching for a few notes but the warmth of his voice carries the tune just as it does during a life-altering “I Second That Emotion”. That’s followed by Village Vanguard-era Coltrane-style run through “My Funny Valentine” which features impossibly great trumpet soloing by a mystery guest. Whoever this was, he and Garcia communicated on as high a musical level as Garcia and Saunders.

Perhaps somewhat predictably it’s the third and final installment of this set where things fall into place and the mothership takes off and soars into the stratosphere. Check Saunders out on “Money Honey”, a song so down and dirty everyone on your block will have to wash their clothes each time you listen. But it’s the final half hour, which begins with “Merl’s Tune”, segues into “Lion’s Share Jam”, and then gives way to “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)”, that this record really earns its keep and we fully realize how much of a gem has been sitting around behind locked doors all these years.

There are numerous Garcia and Dead-related recordings that slip into public each year but this is probably the best for 2016. Now, if we could just find out who the heck is playing trumpet we’d be in great shape.


The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.