On October 13th, Round Records will release a special reissue of Jerry Garcia Band’s classic album Cats Under The Stars. In celebration of the 40th anniversary since the album’s recording, two vinyl configurations will be released - a limited edition pressing of 5,000 marbled gold 180gram vinyl with individually numbered foil-stamped packaging and a 180gram black vinyl. The stunning re-master is audibly evident from the first strums of “Reuben And Cherise” until the choral vocal fade-out ending of “Gomorrah.” Recorded in the fall of 1977 and released in April of 1978, this album became a late-blooming landmark for Garcia. It was a commercial flop upon release, which disheartened Garcia as Cats was arguably his most cohesive solo studio effort. His previous solo releases of Garcia (1972) Compliments (1974), and Reflections (1976) were indeed diverse and charismatic. But Cats Under The Stars captured the developing sound of Jerry Garcia Band authentic to their live performance, while further revealing his artistic propensity outside of the Grateful Dead.
Jerry enlisted his then-current lineup of Keith Godchuax (piano), John Kahn (bass), Ron Tutt (drums) and Donna Jean Godchaux (vocals) with the notable accompaniment of Merl Saunders (organ) and Maria Muldaur (vocals.) While Garcia fluxed throughout the 1970s in his various solo lineups, Kahn remained consistently present in each band while Merl Saunders would stay a dear friend and mentor. The Godchuaxs were welcomed in 1976 after Garica and Saunders retired their efficaciously soulful Legion of Mary band. Evident was Garcia’s affinity for soul, jazz, and gospel. This was hugely due to Saunders influence, which reacquainted Jerry with classics from the African American musical canon. These songs would stay with him for the rest of his life. The key difference with Cats Under The Stars was the songs were not part of Grateful Dead’s live sets or Jerry’s previous solo bands.
This re-issue crisped every nuance of the classic recording. One of Garcia and Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter’s (who wrote or co-wrote six of the album’s eight songs) most striking collaborations is “Reuben And Cherise.” Displaying both artists at their finest, the Garcia Band’s rendition in the studio was tender yet boisterous, remaining faithful to the band’s live sound. “Love In The Afternoon,” was a breezy reggae-soul infusion revealing a controlled softness lesser heard from Garcia. The spiritual “Palm Sunday,” begins with soothing violin from Keith’s brother Brian before a stunning duet between Jerry and Donna Jean. Cats might be Donna’s finest hour, with her full range and ability on display. A Muscle Shoals studio singer who was whirl-winded into the Grateful Dead’s tour amongst a gargantuan stack of speakers, Godchaux’s talents were notably strong in the controlled confines of the studio.
“Cats Under The Stars,” is a fun, sexy, yet sinister tale of a feline’s nightly escapades wrapped around by Hunter’s epitomical human struggle. Jerry’s Mutron III envelope effect was never recorded as authentically. The punchy title track became a staple of Garcia’s live performance repertoire. The album’s iconic cover art, a Stanley Mouse/Alton Kelley collaboration, foreshadowed the Dead’s future journey to Egypt where they would be the first popular music act to play at The Giza. The raunchy “Rhapsody In Red,” would also become a staple of Garcia’s live shows. Maria Muldaur and Donna Jean’s backing vocals invigorate the predominant thumping bass and brash guitar. Perhaps the only odd track of the bunch is Donna Jean’s “Rain,” while it’s a perfectly pleasant country-laced tune, it doesn’t necessarily fit in with the rest. The all-band harmony of the a capella gospel “Down Home,” reinforced the lovely spiritual silhouette lurking behind each tune on Cats Under The Stars. Perhaps the sleeper strongest track on the album is “Gomorrah,” tying together Garcia’s affinity for the spirituals behind the haunting lyricism of Hunter. His slide guitar was never recorded more powerfully, and the vocal harmonies are heard more predominantly than the original pressing.
This re-issue is bound to awaken some reminiscence for those who remember seeing this era of Garcia Band while all will discover the many beautiful nuances never sounding sharper than here.