Day 22: Jack Straw, 7/31/74

Grateful Dead Dave's Picks 2 album cover artwork

I have to admit that I haven’t always been a big Bobby fan. That said, he’s really grown on me in the past 5 years or so. Jack Straw is a tune that I rarely find fault with. One of the nice things about Bobby songs is that they give Jerry an opportunity to cut loose because he didn’t have to worry about singing. This is similar to the Pigpen era when Mr. McKernan would step into the spotlight, often for extended periods of time.

I’ve always been attracted to songs that tell a story and Jack Straw does this, although perhaps not in as linear a fashion as some other songs. I listen to a lot of Irish folk music too, so that may not be an entirely fair comparison, but it’s where my mind wanders.

Here’s my first foray, likely of many, into the Wall of Sound. A lot of people dislike the vocals in these recordings, but I don’t really notice and the instruments more than make up for any shortcoming. People have been particularly critical of Dave’s Picks, Vol. 2, which features this version of Jack Straw. Perhaps my ears just aren’t as sensitive, but everything sounds fine to me. Hopefully, I don’t sound too much like a Dead apologist.

Immediately noticeable in this Jack Straw is that Phil is up in the mix and he is grooving. A few choice notes in the intro make it clear he means business in Hartford. This of course continues throughout the song so definitely pay attention to Mr. Lesh. Also of note: Billy’s snare sounds like it’s wound extra tight. In other words it sounds great.

Jerry’s first solo is by no means pedestrian, but does not contain any major fireworks.

At times the verses are almost delicate in their presentation here, especially the first half of the verse that Bobby takes. Keith plays a nice little figure right before the “leavin’ Texas” line, too. Things pick up when Jerry chimes in though and he takes a very nice little solo after the second verse where he unleashes a salvo of notes in short order. It’s as though his fingers are emulating Jack Straw’s life on the run.

I’ve always liked the contrast in this song between the different sections and how the feel changes. I also like Jerry’s solos on this one. He can really dazzle the fretboard when he wants to. This version shows glimpses, but because it’s a shorter rendering it doesn’t seem that Garcia had the time and room to really let loose. However, I think that Phil helps make up for that fact in this version.

Complete Setlist 7/31/74

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3 Comments
  1. Hey, I just gotta say that I love how the site keeps growing and getting better. Good work. I wish more people would participate. I am most interested in the variety of opinions about the Dead. Listeners are moved or turned off by different things in the music, but we all somehow value this band above so many others. There are a lot of reasons for that, including the fact that there are so many archival recordings. It can be a cranky community and I guess the vocal minority has a lot to do with that. I bet there is a silent majority that just reads and goes on about their day. I hope they at least hit your site and find a link to something meaningful for them.

    • Hey Steven! Glad you made it back; I was hoping you would. I really like your input. I, too, hope that others feel free to include their opinions, thoughts, feedback, etc. in the comments. Hopefully as this thing rolls on and more people start to read regularly they will feel more comfortable doing so.

      It’s clear that we don’t always agree on what makes a tune good, e.g. Throwing Stones, but that’s part of the fun! Your comments are always welcome here!

  2. I gotta admit, this launches perfectly. It may be the best tune of the show so far. The vocal trade-offs are tight and Garcia fights Keith Godchaux pleasantly in the first little instrumental break. Some may complain about so much piano in the mix but I love it. The dymanics are very nice and punchy here. This is the sound of a band finally firing all jets. The second solo is tough and noisy like the rest of the show but it really works here. The wrap is beautiful. I can’t help thinking our beloved Jerry Garcia has been taken hostage by aliens and replaced by an oddly aggressive android. This is not to mention that they forgot to add the beard.

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