It is always a pleasure to see artists pay homage to those that came before them. In a recorded sense, a cover song has its place. However, there is nothing quite like witnessing a band pay unanticipated tribute to an inspirational force in their careers while in the live setting. With Jerry Jams for Rex, what one receives is a gift from both worlds as it compiles completely remastered live performances from a vast array of Jam genre artists, who are all also Deadheads. Then it places them all in a neat little package that’s profit is 100% for a charity that was founded by original performers of the songs being covered, The Rex Foundation.
The Rex Foundation was established in 1983 in memoriam of Rex Jackson, a roadie and eventual road manager for its Grateful Dead founders who passed away in 1976. Over the past two-and-a-half decades, the funds garnered have gone to praiseworthy efforts ranging from Peer AIDS Education Coalition to the Lithuanian Basketball team – the latter, most likely influenced by Deadhead and former NBA Most Valuable Player and current Adviser to the Rex Board, Bill Walton.
The disc begins with a number by a gentleman who is no stranger to the Dead community, Bruce Hornsby. Although Hornsby gained national mainstream notoriety in the 1980’s with “The Way It Is,” his spontaneity on the ivory was just what the Captain (Trips) ordered when he joined the Grateful Dead for over 100 shows beginning in 1988. His offering on Jerry Jams proves to be a solid welcoming effort to the listener in a passionate organic, piano-driven “Lady with a Fan.”
String Cheese Incident’s jam heavy rendition of “Eyes of the World” follows and again, the deliberate track list placement is stellar as it sonically supplies the listener with a progressive build up that begins with a limbering key intro by Kyle Hollingsworth and incorporates the other elements of String Cheese, wherein one may just find himself dancing in his living room as this track blasts through his media player.
A Grateful Dead compilation, particularly one in the name of Jerry Garcia, would not be complete without bluegrass. Railroad Earth, Yonder Mountain String Band, and Hot Buttered Rum deliver mandolin trickling adaptations “Mississippi Half Step Uptown Toodeloo,” “Reuben & Cherise,” and “Cumberland Blues” respectively- the latter being faster paced than its preceding Bluegrass brethren. Later in the disc, a performance of “Mountains of the Moon” from the 2010 Telluride Blue Grass Festival by Keller & The Keels is included to round out the Jerry Jams Bluegrass opus. Keller casts aside his goofiness when playing any tune by the Dead, and the same holds true with this number that is backed by the authentically steeped bluegrass aficionados, Larry and Jenny Keel.
The disappointment of the disc, surprisingly, comes with Widespread Panic’s contribution from a 2010 Knoxville, TN performance of “Cream Puff War.” With a pounding bass intro and eventual extreme heaviness from guitar the guitar of Jimmy Herring coupled with changes throughout the tune that simply are not consistent with the original ebb and flow, this rendition comes across as being a Panic song complete with fret board rides. Quite frankly, it would be a tad bit difficult to name the song if the title was not repeated throughout the performance.
As closing tracks, Steve Kimock takes listeners to “that place” where spirit meets body through music and all they can do is sit and stare with eyes closed. He does this with a completely instrumental translation of “Stella Blue” played entirely from his lap steel guitar that literally weeps as will the listener if he/she is in the right place emotionally at the time of listen. The closer is actually one of the few examples of Phish playing Grateful Dead songs, and came from a gig in Virginia Beach on 8/9/98, the third anniversary date of Jerry’s passing on. The “Terrapin Station” holds true to original composition, but still has Phish-y jam elements which only make the interpretation that much more hearty. It is truly a powerful listen.
Overall, this is an album for any follower of the jam scene. It delivers on most all accounts and is one that will be found in the disc player often. It can be listened to in its entirety even if Panic did provide a little miscue in the mix.
Jerry Jams for Rex is out now on Nugs.net.