A YEAR IN MUSIC: GRATEFUL DEAD – Spring 1990: So Glad You Made It (1990)

A YEAR IN MUSIC: 1990
Review by: Roland Bruynesteyn

Not many people that actually heard of the Grateful Dead will be indifferent to them: you love them or you hate them. The 1990 tour is usually considered their last consistently great tour. In true Grateful Dead style all fourteen concerts have been released in two lavish boxes (numbered, with tickets, back stage passes, and other memorabilia) for the hardcore fans. While definitely in the ‘love them’ camp, I think this 2cd best of tour set is a nice overview for the uninitiated.

Although a 2 CD set cannot do justice to the tour, it does show their strengths and weaknesses. As strengths I would present:

  • The breadth of their repertoire, including an enormous number of their own compositions and selected covers
  • Phil Lesh is a great lead bass player. Like Paul McCartney in his prime he doesn’t always go for the most logical solution, and especially in the jam parts he’s often leading the band
  • Their ensemble playing is amazing: you have to like jam music, but like the best Miles Davis groups, the band members listen to each other and create music on the spot. Best examples: Bird Song, Eyes of the World, Scarlet Begonias and Playing in the Band
  • Jerry Garcia has a nice voice and is a great melodic guitar player: bluesy, jazzy, folky, he can handle it. His playing and singing in Loser for example turn a nice enough song into a version that is considered one of the best in their entire career.

Their weaknesses:

  • Yes, they play a lot of covers and deadify them, but they usually do not actually improve on them: Gimme Some Lovin’ and It’s All Over Now, if not exactly painful, do not add anything much to Steve Winwood or the Stones. Morning Dew, almost a signature tune may be the exception here: they own it
  • Although Jerry has a nice voice, vocals are on the whole not their strong point. Also, they tend to forget some of their lyrics
  • Brent’s voice, while great as a harmony singer, is quite annoying to listen to. Here it’s most prominently featured in his own (rather bad) song Easy to Love You, and it makes for some frustrated listening.

On the whole, I would urge newbies to go for some 1969-1974 Grateful dead, but to strongly consider this set for some late career highlights.
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A YEAR IN MUSIC: TEXAS TORNADOS – Texas Tornados (1990)

A YEAR IN MUSIC: 1990
Review by: Roland Bruynesteyn

Texas Tornados is a Tex Mex super group, consisting of Doug Sahm, Augie Meyers, Freddy Fender, Flaco Jimenez and others. This their debut album is great fun. Every song features the accordion, which you really have to like to like the album. Compared to say Los Lobos the music sounds on the whole more happy, and a little less rock and roll. Most songs have a very happy vibe, great for dancing parties, because they’re rhythmically simple: (Hey Baby) Que Paso, Dinero and Soy de San Luis are the best examples of this.

Adios Mexico is a bit more in the old Sir Douglas Quintet vein, sort of a speeded up version of Mendocino, his great hit from the 60’s. Freddy Fender has the least generic sounding voice, sounding a little like a cross between Neil Young the balladeer and Percy Sledge. He sings the two (sad) love songs, A Man Can Cry and If That’s What You’re Thinking. Nice!

A YEAR IN MUSIC: FUGAZI – Repeater (1990)

A YEAR IN MUSIC: 1990
Review by: Lex Alfonso

Truly, few groups in the history of the punk canon have expanded the vocabulary of the genre so swiftly and so decisively. Fugazi’s compact, but powerful, opus opened the floodgates and redefined what a punk album could be. Its 35 minutes are packed with the detail of a record thrice its size. Repeat listens yield subtle layers hiding behind the riffs. Stabs of jangly guitar leads pierce the walls of distortion and the politically charged lyrics belie a guiding theme of identity and automation.

MacKaye’s commitment to his craft is tragically unprecedented in its near-total absence of pretence. It’s daringly free of compromise, hybridisation or dilution. 1990 might have been the year the world discovered punk could be intelligent and legitimately important, but we were just catching up to Ian MacKaye’s genius.