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.