Jelly Home

all the articles, back to 1995

what’s Jelly got to do with it?

The Jelly Jar
factoids, jokes & links

search / tips


Buy now at

Jerry Garcia & David Grisman
Shady Grove, Acoustic Disc CD ACD 21, 1996

Back to the roots again

 Shady Grove marks the fourth officially released collaboration between Garcia and Grisman (of course the tape tree goes on forever). These two veterans of the folk scene each began their careers in the early ’60s playing traditional, jug band and bluegrass music. Their first record together was in 1975, when Garcia took a break from the Dead to perform with Old and In the Way, along with Grisman, Vassar Clements, Peter Rowen and John Kahn. The album was remarkable in its time, simple virtuosic acoustic folk music competing with overproduced synthesized drek of the era. In recent years, they released two albums as a duo, one directed at children.

Since Garcia was a compulsive recorder, there’s a lot of music sitting in the vault. Grisman’s private label, Acoustic Recordings, plans on releasing up to four sets, arranged by genre.  Shady Grove is the first, and consists of traditional folk songs and ballads. They’re simple songs in simple arrangements, played by two masters who love what they’re doing. For the most part, they really manage to capture the old-time feeling of these songs. However, the feeling is marred somewhat by chatter left on the tapes. Too often, there’s an intrusive fade-out with one or the other cackling "Well that’s an old-timey sound" or the equivalent. A more discrete editor would have let the listener acknowledge the obvious, without the elbow in the ribs.

Musically, things are pretty simple, with Garcia and Grisman on guitar and mandolin, respectively. Grisman’s mandolin predominates, and Garcia is surprisingly unobtrusive. Garcia’s vocals are a bit grittier than usual, and added rasp works well. Will Scarlett (I’d lost track of him after the first Hot Tuna album) shows up on harmonica on the album’s closer, a lovely "Down in the Valley". Then, after a few minutes silence, a bonus track of "Hesitation Blues" kicks in, completing the Tuna connection.

Many of the songs are real chestnuts, half-remembered from my childhood days. Others seem unfamiliar at first, but exhibit such resonance that they’re banging around your head after just a few listenings. There are sea chanties and civil war-era ballads, several of them truly strange. "Dreadful Wind and Rain" tells a tale of two strolling sisters, one complaining incessantly about the weather. The other meets a man, and together they shove the whining one into the river. When her body washes up on shore, her hair is used as fiddle strings and her bones as fiddle pegs. But all the instrument will play is ‘Oh the dreadful wind and rain’–whew! Then there’s "The Handsome Cabin Boy," actually a girl in disguise who has a dalliance with both the ship’s captain and his wife, and then bears a child. The dark core of our folk past is laid bare in these and other songs; they really makes you yearn for those traditional family values of years past.

The set is magnificently packaged, with a slip case and a sizable book of liner notes that explains the heritage of each piece and provides lyrics as well. It appears comprehensive, but while rightly noting "Jackaroo" as a 1980’s Dead standard, it misses the more interesting reference of "Stealin’," which the Dead often featured in late 1960’s sets, and was in fact the A-side of their very first single, on Scorpio in 1966. Any complaints are mere quibbles, though. The CD stands on its own, however, and could have released in a plain brown wrapper and still been a pleasure. This one’s a keeper, and truly enjoyable for music fans of any age.–  Bill Kuhn


Jerry Garcia, vocals, guitar, banjo; David Grisman, mandolin, banjo; Joe Craven, fiddle; Jim Kerwin, bass; Will Scarlett, harmonica.

song titles

Shady Grove • Stealin’ • Off to Sea Once More • The Sweet Sunny South • Louise Collins • Fair Ellender • Jackaroo • Casey Jones (no not  that one) • Dreadful Wind and Rain • I Truly Understand • The Handsome Cabin Boy • Whiskey in the Jar • Down in the Valley • Hesitation Blues (unlisted)

Copyright © 1997 Peppercorn Press. All rights reserved.