|Legion of Mary - The Jerry Garcia Collection, Vol. 1|
|Music Disc Reviews Audio CD|
|Written by John Sutton-Smith|
|Tuesday, 23 August 2005|
As one of the many side projects he inspired, joined and engendered throughout his career, Legion of Mary is the one where Jerry Garcia gets funky. The Grateful Dead guitarist surrounded himself with a typically eclectic group of sidemen, and the original line-up was in fact Garcia’s first musical project to feature horns.
Former Quicksilver Messenger Service sax player Martin Fierro and longtime compatriot Merl Saunders, flute and keyboard/vocalist, were Jerry’s key co-conspirators in this endeavor; joined by bassist John Kahn (John Lee Hooker, Al Kooper, others) and one-time Elvis drummer Ron Tutt, they played about 60 shows in the mid ‘70s.
Seven of those shows produced the never-before-released recordings on The Jerry Garcia Collection, Volume 1: Legion Of Mary. The two-disc audio collection tracks the somewhat soulful-leaning rock quintet as Jerry's unique and special talents melded with Fierro’s jazzy sax stylings and the funkified mix of Merl's groovy Hammond organ, all solidly backed by longtime musical partners Kahn and Tutt. The results, for Dead, jazz and R&B fans alike, were nothing less than musical bliss, as demonstrated here.
Like many Garcia side projects, the song selection is heavy on covers from across the musical spectrum, from Ray Charles' "Talkin' 'Bout You" and Allen Toussaint’s “I’ll Take a Melody” to Chuck Berry's "Let It Rock" and the Jesse Stone standard “Money Honey.”
Opening with "Tough Mama," from Dylan's then-current 1974 Planet Waves album, the set includes rarities like "Talkin' 'Bout You" and "Last Train from Poor Valley," as well as early examples of songs that would become staples of Garcia's solo repertoire, like the Band’s "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," Smokey Robinson’s "I Second That Emotion" and the Holland-Dozier-Holland classic "How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You."
The grooves are long and funky, the solos soulful and sustained, from Merl’s organ to Jerry’s guitar as each song, many classics in their own right, are reworked through this psychedelicious prism. The magic of the whole thing is that it works if you’re way up high on the mountain, or way downtown on the streets; it’s for everybody – it’s that kind of music.
Legion of Mary concert tapes have long been prized possessions in serious Deadhead tapers’ collections, and rare bootlegs from this era contain some of the most adventurous jams and high-spirited performances from all of Jerry's side projects. Listening to this first authorized set, one can immediately understand why.
Although these shows were recorded before the more recent advancements in digital sound, the Dead team took their usual care and attention into recording these shows as crisply, warmly and faithfully as possible.