Grateful Dead music continues to inspire and muse generations of contemporary musicians. When the band played, their music fostered an experience each night that transformed the ordinary bounds of everyday life beyond possibility. A trip into the transcendental. Even if the words and melodies were familiar to followers, something about their approach of spontaneity and improvisation combined with an overarching reworking of Americana made the music familiar and new simultaneously. Maybe this is why musicians of all colors, creeds and backgrounds feel it necessary to put their own spin on the music that inspired them so. Though many were covering Grateful Dead music years before this, it wasn’t until the Deadicated release in 1991 that artists of high merit collaborated on a full-on Dead Tribute album. Musicians as diverse as Elvis Costello, Los Lobos, and Burning Spear contributed a variety of different spins and styles to their favorite Dead Tunes. Since then, a plethora of covers projects, and various Dead-Incarnation tributes have emerged. Some aim for authenticity to the original Garcia/Weir/Lesh/Hart/Kruetzmann sound while others add their own attributes that accent and enhance certain flavors and textures in the Dead’s soundscape.
Dead fans can be overly opinionated, but it’s because they are often more exposed to a larger musical universe and tend to appreciate jazz, world, and blues music more than the average rock fans. Another recent quality release will likely become a favorite amongst open-minded Deadheads. Harpist Anela Lauren has been a Deadhead for many years and lends her focus of instrumentation toward blending Hawaiian and Celtic music, both cultures that furthered the possibilities of string music beyond the more oridianry Euro-Centric styles. Her second CD release is already being touted and embraced in the Deadhead community. Grateful Dead historian and longtime host of the Grateful Dead Hour David Gans has been playing “Harpin’ on the Dead” on his program for the last couple of months. Gans in addition has such musical empathy toward Lauren that the two are set to tour together this October on the West Coast. Get Ready for some new quality contributions.
Harpin’ on the Dead is a brilliant variation on the music of primarily Hunter/Garcia with a cover of Phil Lesh’s “Box of Rain” included too. Her assured vocals sound like a mother’s lullaby coursing her listeners to reevaluate what they think they might already understand. Her harp textures liven up acoustic versions of classic ballads and laments such as “Ripple”, “Attics of My Life”, and “Black Muddy River.” A particular high moment is an electrified version of “Eyes of the World” with guitar accompaniment from Stephen Inglis. The two bounce back and forth allowing the melody to present itself with the different instrumentation than we are used to. A peppy version of “Franklin’s Tower” is enunciated with a woman’s special touch that Robert Hunter’s fairytale like lyrics are relived by. No doubt that this rendition of “Terrapin Station” reveals Baroque-esque textures with the Harp taking on the usual turns and changes. You have never heard “Lady with a Fan” played this way before.
Do yourself a favor and pick up “Harpin on the Dead” and support Anela when she goes on tour with Gans. Let the tributaries spread further.