Phil Lesh and Friends There And Back Again

There And Back Again contains the first studio recordings to feature Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh in a prominent role since their final album (1989's Built To Last) was released some 13 years ago. In many ways this seems like a logical successor, although Lesh has of course recorded this record with an entirely different band. Surrounded by some of the highest calibre of players currently in jam band circles, including Gov't Mule's Warren Haynes and Jazz Is Dead's Jimmy Herring on guitar, the quintet has been playing together for nearly two years now and has managed to record a solid debut. Of the 11 songs, Haynes and Lesh pen the majority, with lyrical help from long-time Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, who contributes to more than half of the tracks. Highlights include the melodic Herring ballad "Again and Again," which features the most beautiful vocal harmonies Lesh has been involved with since the Dead's classic 1970 album American Beauty, and the raging "Night Of A Thousand Stars," which features great trade-off solos between Haynes and Herring. The band pays homage to the late Garcia by including a version of his "Liberty" on the album, a song played often by the Dead in their later years but never released on a studio recording. Unfortunately it's probably the weakest song here. I'm not sure this is a record that will win over new fans, but it should give Deadheads some enjoyable listening pleasure anyway. (Lapsis)