Terrapin Station

Grateful Dead

Arista Records, 1977


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Any time I really need a spiritual or emotional lift, I can always count on the Grateful Dead. They always seem to be able to life me out of any funk I am in, or they can make a smile that's on my face that much wider.

Funny thing is, their 1977 release Terrapin Station didn't always have that effect on me. The first time I heard it, I had picked up an old beat-up record for 50 cents at the used record store I frequented. Listening to it, I wondered, "What the hell did they do to 'Dancin' In The Street'?" I filed the record away for a long time.

But then, something happened: I became a Deadhead, and found myself updating everything to CD. I had also heard some tapes of shows, with songs like "Estimated Prophet" ringing through loud and clear. So, over to Best Buy I went, and picked up Terrapin Station again. While I can understand how some people don't like portions of this album (for it's not their best work), it also contains some of the band's most beautiful work.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Surprisingly, Jerry Garcia is almost completely absent in the vocal department on this album; he only steps up to the microphone once as the lead vocalist, and that's on the title track. For the most part, rhythm guitarist Bob Weir handles the vocals here, and handles them well. (Donna Godchaux takes over control of the microphone on "Sunrise", possibly the weakest song on the album. I've just never warmed up to this track, even after all these years.)

For the inexperienced listener, Terrapin Station contains two treasures that must be experienced. The first is the 16-minute title track, which contains some of the most intricate, prettiest rhythms the band has ever come up with. Garcia's vocals gently lay over the track, even adding to the power of the song. The drum workout near the end between Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart is simply incredible. This one takes one or two listens to really appreciate, but it's worth the effort.

The second is "Estimated Prophet," one of my favorite songs from the Dead. Weir's vocals combined with MIDI-guitar work from Garcia (the guitar solo sounds like a trumpet, and is damned good) make this track (done mostly in 7/4 time, just to keep you on your toes) instantly addictive. I've even heard this track played on the pumped-in music at the local Walgreen's - no wonder I shop there.

Of the remaining tracks, they're very much hit-or-miss. "Passenger," a rare Phil Lesh-composed track, sometimes sounds like a great song to me, but on my last spinning of the disc, it didn't strike me as being anything special. "Samson And Delilah" was always a concert favorite of the Dead, but it's also never been a track I've particularly enjoyed. And "Dancin' In The Streets" is the first taste of "disco-Dead" that people got, and it wasn't a taste that some people liked. I personally liked the older, trippier version of this song better, but this one does grow on you after a time.

Terrapin Station not only marked the first album the Dead recorded for Arista, but also the first time they worked with an outside producer (Keith Olsen) since the band's early days. Personally, I think Olsen captured the sound of the band quite well, bringing to the mix a crispness that had been missing for some time.

Terrapin Station is a mixed bag when it comes to quality songs, but it is a worthwhile listen, if only for the classics.

Rating: B-

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© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Arista Records, and is used for informational purposes only.