[Review] Bob Weir: Heaven Help The Fool (1978)

Bob Weir’s major-label breakout isn’t a complete bust, but it’ll send most Dead fans running back to Skull and Roses.

Kronomyth 2.0: Overestimated profit.

The slickest of the Bob Weir solo albums, featuring Terrapin producer Keith Olsen and the hottest L.A. studio cats that money could buy. The album effectively signaled the end of the Kingfish experiment for Weir, and suggests that someone at Arista thought the Dead guitarist/vocalist had the charisma and cachet to make a go of it on his own without an army of the Dead tagging along. That someone was wrong. Not that Heaven is a bad record, only a little misguided.

The studio was an ideal setting for the Eagles and Steely Dan, but not so the Dead. Heaven Help The Fool is pure ‘70s studio rock, even down to the disco-influenced title track (apparently, disco really is Dead). The same problem plagued some of the Dead albums from this period: Shakedown Street, Go To Heaven. But there was always that organic interplay and unpredictable spirit to rescue even their lamest efforts. Not here. Weir and Waddy Wachtel hardly grab a lead and the closest thing to spontaneity is the occasional sax solo from Tom Scott.

What saves this from being a total bore is the material. The six new Weir/Barlow compositions are good, sometimes very good. You can draw a direct line from songs like “Shade of Grey” and the title track to subsequent Dead tracks like “Saint of Circumstance.” In my opinion, the Weir/Barlow partnership was in its ascendancy at this stage, just as the Garcia/Hunter tandem was starting to decline. Weir’s raunchy rhythm & blues (“Salt Lake City,” “Wrong Way Feelin”) is balanced by increasingly sophisticated (and often elusive) melodies, especially on the ballads. And Barlow has always been an ace lyricist.

The mix of new material with covers (Marvin Gaye’s “I’ll Be Doggone,” Little Feat’s “Easy To Slip”) place Heaven in line with Garcia’s Roses. Both are initially underwhelming, but I’ve warmed up to them over time. Perhaps tellingly, Weir hasn’t released another “solo” album like this since, returning to loose affiliations with the Dead as Bobby and the Midnites and Ratdog.

Read more Bob Weir reviews

Original elpee version

A1. Bombs Away (5:06)
A2. Easy To Slip (Martin Kibbee/Lowell George) (3:05)
A3. Salt Lake City (4:04)
A4. Shade of Grey (4:30)
B1. Heaven Help The Fool (5:30)
B2. This Time Forever (4:09)
B3. I’ll Be Doggone (William “Smokey” Robinson/Warren Moore/Marvin Tarplin) (3:07)
B4. Wrong Way Feelin’ (5:12)

All songs written by John Barlow & Bob Weir unless noted.

The Players

Bob Weir (vocals, guitar), Mike Baird (drums), Bill Champlin (keyboards, background vocals, organ), David Foster (keyboards), Lynette Gloud (background vocals), Tom Kelly (background vocals), David Paich (keyboards), Mike Porcaro (bass), Carmen Twilly (background vocals) with Dee Murrey (Murray) (bass on A2), Nigel Olsson (drums on A2/B3), Peggy Sandvig (keyboards on A4), Tom Scott (winds), Waddy Wachtel (guitar). Produced by Keith Olsen; engineered by Keith Olsen and David De Vore.

The Pictures

Photography by Richard Avedon. Art direction by Ria Lewerke.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and cassette in February 1978 in the US (Arista, AB 4155), the UK (Arista, SPART 1044), Australia (Arista, TC-AL-4155) and Germany (Arista, 064-60 467) with lyrics innersleeve; reached #69 on the US charts.

  1. Re-issued on elpee, cassette and compact disc in the US (Arista, AL5/AC/ARCD-8165).
  2. Re-released on remastered compact disc on January 4, 2005 in the US (Grateful Dead, 78992).

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