Fat with dozens of previously unreleased tracks—live stuff, alternate studio versions, and, believe it or not, Warlocks recordings—The Golden Road will no doubt overwhelm many a Deadhea

Fat with dozens of previously unreleased tracks—live stuff, alternate studio versions, and, believe it or not, Warlocks recordings—The Golden Road will no doubt overwhelm many a Deadhead. This lovingly produced, 12-CD collection of the band's Warner Bros. work is less your standard fare boxed retrospective and more a Dead treasure chest. In addition to remastered, repackaged, and expanded versions of such studio classics as American Beauty, Workingman's Dead, and Aoxomoxoa—which contain most of the band's best-known songs, including "Sugar Magnolia," "Truckin'," "St. Stephen," "Uncle John's Band," "Casey Jones," and "China Cat Sunflower"— a two-disc set composed almost entirely of previously unreleased material, Birth of the Dead, makes its debut here. Birth's first disc begins with six jangly tracks (including Gordon Lightfoot's "Early Morning Rain" and "I Know You Rider") cut in November 1965, when the band was still known as the Warlocks. Its second disc—containing mostly covers, with many featuring late singer/keyboardist Ron "Pigpen" McKernan on lead vocals—is a series of live tracks recorded the next year. Though certainly rough around the edges, such tracks as "Pain in My Heart" and Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" are surprisingly exciting reminders of the band's passion for blues and soul music. Also documenting the Dead's Bay Area birth and the beginnings of its metamorphosis into one of America's most-loved rock products is an 80-page booklet that collects famed photos (by, among others, Jim Marshall, Herb Greene, and Paul Ryan) and, most notably, a wonderfully insightful essay by longtime Dead spokesman Dennis McNally that, in certain areas, is specially tailored to apply to the the band's Warner era. Full of anecdotes that McNally and very few others could recount, it generates even more anticipation for his forthcoming book, A Long Strange Trip: The Inside Story of the Grateful Dead, due to be released in the summer of 2002. Offering just the slightest taste of the band's rich vault, The Golden Road does well to keep the Dead torch burning, while setting a standard by which Arista and Grateful Dead Records should meet—and possibly exceed—a few years from now with a companion box that collects such essential, late-era Dead albums as Blues for Allah, In the Dark, and Shakedown Street.—WO

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