Grateful Dead The Golden Road (1965-1973)

While recognised for their live performances, little credit is ever given to the Grateful Dead's studio output. They did make most of their mark by being an indescribable, often incredible onstage entity, but they also made a string of studio albums, particularly their early '70s output, that stand the test of time. The Golden Road, a new 12-CD collection containing the band's Warner albums, is testimonial to just how good those early records were. Overseen by transplanted Canadian David Lemieux, now the Dead's archivist, the original albums have been remastered and an incredible amount of unreleased material (nearly eight hours worth) has been added as a bonus. Some material, like 1968's Anthem Of The Sun, has also had the original mix reinstated. Of the new bonus material, a two-CD collection, Birth Of The Dead, traces the band's early steps as the Warlocks through an album's worth of studio demos and an accompanying live set, which shows progression from their beat-inspired beginnings. The bonus material included on the albums does justice to the band mindset at that point in time. The material is heavily original bandleader Ron "Pigpen" McKernan's songs and works well as a tribute. Some of the unreleased Pigpen material debuted here is absolutely mind-blowing: the slow, dirge-filled blues of "The Stranger (Two Souls In Communion)," from Europe '72, the uppity showmanship on "I'm A Hog For You," off of Grateful Dead, and "Good Lovin'" and "Smokestack Lightnin'" (both off History Of The Grateful Dead, Vol 1: Bear's Choice) make it clear that when he was at the microphone, the Grateful Dead were Pigpen's backing band first and foremost. With all the exceptional bonus material, The Golden Road is a no-brainer for fans or anyone curious as to why so many still swear by them to this day. (Rhino)