18 NOV 08 DAVID VIENNA
I wasn't going to write this post. I put the Merl Saunders and Jerry Garcia release Well-Matched on the writing schedule last month. A week later Saunders passed away and staffer Jeffrey Spector wrote a thorough and thoughtful piece about him. Here's why I decided to write the post anyway: I was surprised by how much I like this album.
I'm not a fan of the Grateful Dead (or hippies in general) and I think jam bands are usually nothing more than a demonstration of group self-involvement. But, Well-Matched offers straight-up, laid back blues and R&B from two undeniably talented musicians.
A great example is their version of Jimmy Rogers' "That's Alright." They don't seek to alter it or update it, but rather play it in its rawest form. Garcia's deft blues licks and Saunders' southern-fried organ lines honor legendary bluesman.
Well-Matched, which is actually a Best Of two albums (Vol. 1 and Vol. 2) recorded at San Francisco's Keystone club in 1973, also features a previously unreleased version of Smokey Robinson's classic "I Second That Emotion."
Another treat and my favorite track is a cover of Jimmy Cliff's "The Harder They Come." While Garcia's vocals and Saunders' carousel organ push it closer to a Dead sound than the original reggae anthem, the interpretation serves as a wonderful closer to a this upbeat set from two friends whose bond on- and off-stage comes through with every chord.