PHIL LESH & FRIENDS - There and Back Again (2002)
After releasing Love Will See You Through, a live album featuring onetime guests like Jorma Kaukonen, Phil Lesh organized a permanent touring and recording band under the moniker Phil Lesh & Friends. This quintet, with an instrumentation that replicated the Grateful Dead's except for the inclusion of only one drummer, featured former Allman Brothers Band guitarists Warren Haynes and Jimmy Herring, former Zen Tricksters keyboardist Rob Barraco, and former Bruce Hornsby & the Range drummer John Molo. There and Back Again is this unit's first studio album and, not surprisingly, it sounds like a cross between the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers Band. Lesh has made one other crucial connection, bringing in Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter to write the words for six of the 11 songs. (One of them is "Liberty," a Jerry Garcia co-composition the Grateful Dead performed toward the end.) Hunter has a distinctive, wordy writing style, full of allusions, aphorisms, and wordplay that will be familiar to any Deadhead. The leadoff track, "Celebration," with music by Lesh, is very much the product of the team who wrote the Grateful Dead's "Box of Rain"; it is a statement of purpose, proclaiming a recommitment to a positive viewpoint despite "stolen elections, corruption, and hate." Haynes, who does most of the singing (though Lesh and Barraco get leads, too), was a careful student of Gregg Allman's throaty style, and his stinging slide guitar work recalls Duane Allman. For the most part, the bandmembers keep their natural tendency to jam in check, placing emphasis on the well-written songs. The tracks run four to six minutes each and usually fade out with the band still playing, so this material no doubt stretches out in concert. The result is a surprisingly well-organized and accessible collection that is the best album yet made by a Grateful Dead spinoff band.
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