Hot on the heels of the sepia-tinted Americana of 1970’s Workingman’s Dead, an album largely dictated by Jerry Garcia and lyricist Robert Hunter, American Beauty (released just five months later) was a more group-focused take on acoustics and plush harmonies.
Bass player Phil Lesh brought along the wistful Box Of Rain, giving Hunter the instruction to write something to commemorate his dying father. Bar set high, Friend Of The Devil and Sugar Magnolia took a jauntier turn, while Truckin’ celebrated a recent New Orleans drug bust.
Ripple (originally titled Hand Me Down) and Brokedown Palace were written in London and considered for Workingman’s Dead, indicating why the discs are often viewed as parts of a whole.
Remastered now (not for the first time), this three-CD Deluxe Edition is bolstered by the Dead’s first show at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY, on February 18 1971 (supposedly previously unreleased, but readily available online), where they debuted the footloose Bertha and Bob Weir’s shaggy dog story The Greatest Story Ever Told.
By this time drummer Mickey Hart had been let go due to his heroin addiction plus his old man having absconded with a vast amount of Grateful Dead cash. Pretty disastrous on that count; but the music is triumphant.