Robert Hunter: Tales of the Great Rum Runners (1974)

Kronomyth 1.0: THE ADVENTURES OF PANAMA RUM. Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter took advantage of the band’s mid-70s hiatus to launch his own solo career with the release of Tales of the Great Rum Runners. With a few of the Dead (Mickey Hart, Jerry Garcia, the Godchauxes) and some ancillary figures (Buddy Cage, David Freiberg) along for the ride, Hunter does a passable Johnny Cash/Bob Dylan impression for forty minutes while playing guitar and pipes in a style that leans decidedly more toward pirate than cowboy. Highlights include “It Must Have Been The Roses” (which the Dead quickly shanghaied in a dirge-like reading for their own shows) and the legend-stoking “Boys In The Barroom.” The remaining material is interesting, although not up to the standards of Hunter’s work with the Dead, let alone Dylan or Cash. Honestly, I expected better lyrics, worse singing and more songwriting support from outside collaborators, so Tales is both a surprise and a disappointment. It’s not an album you’ll play once and put away; you’ll come back periodically to hear songs like “That Train” and “Arizona Lightning” again. But there’s little on here that will get under your skin the way those Garcia/Hunter songs do. Despite the Dead connections, this sounds more like the New Sailors of the Purple Waves. Tales is interesting enough to warrant further discoveries in the fields of Hunter, since he’s built up the same cachet that makes me buy Bob Weir albums. In isn’t a lost Beauty, though, just a box of rain unlocked in the middle of a Dead dry spell.

Original LP Version
A1. Lady Simplicity (0:20)
A2. That Train (4:33)
A3. Dry Dusty Road (2:18)
A4. I Heard You Singing (Robert Hunter/David Freiberg) (3:36)
A5. Rum Runners (3:01)
A6. Children’s Lament (4:15)
A7. Maybe She’s A Bluebird (1:57)
B1. Boys In The Barroom (1:09)
B2. It Must have Been The Roses (3:30)
B3. Arizona Lightning (3:32)
B4. Standing At Your Door (4:31)
B5. Mad (4:12)
B6. Keys To The Rain (4:15)

All tracks written by Robert Hunter unless noted.

The Players
Robert Hunter (vocals, guitars & pipes), Mickey Hart (drums, changes) with Peter Albin (bass), Rodney Albin (a capella vocals, fiddle), Maureen Aylett (spoons), Christie Bourne (castanets), Buddy Cage (pedal steel), Maria Cippolina, T. Will Claire (a acapella vocals), Hadi El Sadoon (trumpet on B6), John Farey, Milt Farrow, David Freiberg (bass, changes), Snookey Flowers (saxophone), Bruce Gapinski, Jerry Garcia (solo guitar), Donna Jean Godchaux (lady), Keith Godchaux (keyboard), David Kessner, Barry Melton (solo guitar), Jamie Paris (harp on B5), Steven Schuster (saxophone), Ray Scott, Rick & Markee Shubb (banjo & mandolin), Jeff Slattery, Randall Smith, Bill Steele, Robbie Stokes (guitar on B5). Directed by Robert Hunter; engineered by Steve Brandon, Dan Healy, Bob Matthews; mix by Jerry Garcia; technical & production assistance by Mickey Hart and Barry Melton.

The Pictures
Art by Rick Griffin.

The Plastic
Released on elpee and 8-track in June 1974* in the US (Round, RX/RXT-101). Re-issued on elpee and CD in 1989 in the UK (Grateful Dead, GDV/GDCD-4013). Re-released on edited CD and cassette on March 30, 1990 in the US (Rykodisc, RCD 10158/RACS 0158). (*First appeared in 6/1/74 issue of Billboard.)

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