Toward the end of his life, Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia renewed his old friendship with master mandolin player David Grisman and made a series of albums of bluegrass, jazz, country and what could best be called miscellaneous acoustic. The two had a yin-yang relationship, both personally and musically, with Grisman being the talented perfectionist and Garcia the inspired, in-the-moment guy. The happy mesh is examined in this new documentary assembled by Grisman’s daughter Gillian.
The tone here is unrelentingly positive, befitting what has become a bit of a requiem for Garcia. We get a little history of the two, their roots in the respective East and West Coast folk and bluegrass scenes, a series of talking heads who don’t say anything quotable but add to the mellow mood, and a lot of music. The songs are presented uncut, occasionally interrupted by brief voice-overs or cutaways. As a result, all the talk about how well these two played together is redundant next to the evidence, which includes blues and sea chanties and Grisman’s multipart “Arabia,” a mélange of Spanish-flavored tonalities that sounds like something Chick Corea might have dreamed up (back when he was dreaming up such things).
Much is made of the courageousness of Garcia in returning to the acoustic guitar and banjo after years of playing electric, and you don’t have to have a trained ear to suss out his many ragged moments, especially in the company of Grisman’s precise virtuosity. But it’s his idiosyncratic approach that keeps the Grisman-Garcia duo from the fate of so many who set out to revive the archival, which is to end up sounding like performing replicants. He adds the human touch of flawed enthusiasm, and the results are, if not quite a buzz, then a definite glow.
Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit), Friday through Sunday. Call 313-833-3237.
Visit the official Grateful Dawg Web site at sonyclassics.com/gratefuldawg.
Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected].