Merl Saunders/Jerry Garcia/John Kahn/Bill Vitt: Keystone Encores, Vol. 2 (1988)

Technically, I should tell you to run with both arms over your head, screaming. But in my heart I enjoy this scruffy, loveable fourfer. Yes it’s product, peddled by Fantasy through their affiliation with Merl Saunders. He, Garcia, John Kahn and Bill Vitt played some dates at the Keystone in Berkeley in the summer of 1973, which appeared on record as Live at the Keystone. Fifteen years later, performances that missed the first cut were released as Keystone Encores volumes one and two. So we’re talking specious with a capital spee, since it’s unlikely that a few nights in July at a club most of us haven’t heard of could be a source of any real magic. And really it’s not. Garcia’s voice is rough, the player interaction solid but lacking the little epiphanies you’ll find in the knotted woodwork of the Dead. And you don’t need to hear Garcia sing a version of “How Sweet It Is,” no matter how sweet. The attraction for me has always been of a sneakier sort, like when I stayed up late as a kid to watch Saturday Night Live. I know I shouldn’t be looking over Jerry Garcia’s shoulder, fifteen years after Keystone’s logical bedtime, waiting and watching for something magical to happen, but it feels good. Better than those horrible posthumous Jimi Hendrix tapes at any rate. The Keystone Encores aren’t hits or misses, they’re batting practice. You come here to see Garcia take his swings, to watch a titan in repose. If you coughed at the word “titan,” stay home, but I’ll gladly burn a midnight candle for Jerry Garcia most nights.

Original LP Version
A1. Hi-Heel Sneakers (Robert Higgenbotham)
A2. Mystery Train (Sam Phillips/Junior Parker)
B1. It’s Too Late (She’s Gone) (Chuck Willis)
B2. How Sweet It Is (Brian Holland/Lamont Dozier/Eddie Holland)

The Players
Merl Saunders (keyboards), Jerry Garcia (guitar, vocals), John Kahn (bass), Bill Vitt (drums). Produced by Merl Saunders and John Kahn; engineered by Betty Cantor and Rex Jackson; digital remix engineered by Danny Kopelson.

The Plastic
Released on elpee and cassette in 1988 in the US (Fantasy, MPF/5MPF-4534).

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