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

Hunter’s maiden solo voyage produces a few great songs that became fodder for the Dead’s canon.

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. It 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.

Original 8-track version
A1. Lady Simplicity
A2. That Train
A3. Children’s Lament
A4. Boys in the Barroom
B1. Dry Dusty Road
B2. Roses
B3. At Your Door
C1. I Heard You Singing
C2. Rum Runners
C3. Arizona Lightning
D1. Maybe She’s a Bluebird
D2. I’m Mad
D3. Keys to the Rain

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). (*First appeared in 6/1/74 issue of Billboard.)

  1. Re-issued on elpee and compact disc in 1989 in the UK (Grateful Dead, GDV/GDCD-4013).
  2. Re-released on edited compact disc and cassette on March 30, 1990 in the US (Rykodisc, RCD 10158/RACS 0158).

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