Wednesday, December 16, 2015
Brent Mydland - Unreleased Solo Album (1982)
Having just written about the Keith & Donna album a few days ago, I was going to wait a while before I wrote another Grateful Dead-related post. However, a recent article on the background of the late Dead keyboardist Brent Mydland's unreleased solo album has sparked interest in it.
Here is some background on how Mydland's solo album came about.
Brent Mydland's first recorded compositions were on the lone album by the '70s country rock group he was in, Silver. They had a Top Twenty hit with "Wham Bam" (aka "Wham Bam Shang-A-Lang") in 1976. He didn't write that, but he did write two other songs for Silver's album. These include the lead-off cut, "Musician (It's Not an Easy Life)," and the melodic "Climbing," which sounds (to me, anyway) like it had hit potential.
So Mydland was always a songwriter. When Mydland joined the Dead, they were extremely democratic when it came to letting him write songs, unlike some other big-time rock groups who rarely allowed anyone but the band's leaders to get songwriting credit. Mydland placed two songs on the first Dead album on which he played, the 1980 effort Go to Heaven.
Unfortunately for him, the Dead didn't focus on making albums for a while after that one, so that left him with a bunch of songs and nowhere to go with them. Hence, a solo album. It was recorded by his then-girlfriend, recording engineer Betty Jackson-Cantor, who had worked with the Dead both on the road and in the studio.
Mydland's unreleased album showcases the same sort of rock-meets-soul compositions that he'd become known for in Deadland. If you like tracks like "Far From Me" or "I Will Take You Home," you're sure to like the songs on this one. None of the Dead played on these tracks, so Mydland and Cantor-Jackson are the only connections to the band here.
It's probably pointless to speculate on why this album never saw the light of day in its time or afterwards. The simple fact that Mydland spent much of his time on the road with the Dead might have had something to do with him not having enough time or energy to see this project to fruition.
But we can hear it now. The book "Grateful Dead FAQ" critically assesses this album in its chapter on Dead bootlegs:
"Mydland rocks out with abandon on 'Maybe You Know,' which comes close to the blues rock-cum-metal Pat Travers was doing at the time. Eddie Money guitarist and David Lee Roth collaborator Monty Byron reportedly plays a crunchy guitar part on 'Tons of Steel,' making it much heavier than the Dead’s version. The song arguably works better in this style. 'Long Way to Go' is a power ballad that showcases the toppermost part of Mydland’s vocal range."
As bonus tracks, this album includes five original compositions Mydland performed live with the Dead but never placed on their albums. Brent Mydland's voice and musical style are acquired tastes for a lot of Deadheads, so this isn't for everyone. But while Mydland might not have composed in the style of Jerry Garcia, he was definitely someone who could write songs. And as for his singing, well, that was always first-rate.
Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions - Live at the Top of the Tangent (1964)
Keith & Donna - Keith & Donna (1975)
Diga Rhythm Band - Diga (1976)
Robert Hunter - Jack O' Roses (1980)
Tom Constanten - Grateful Dreams (2000)
1. Inlay It In Your Heart
2. Tons Of Steel
4. Maybe You Know
6. See The Other Side
7. Long Way To Go
8. Take One
9. Maybe You Know (4/15/83 War Memorial Auditorium - Rochester, NY)
10. Only a Fool (4/23/84, Veterans' Memorial Coliseum - New Haven, CT)
11. Don't Need Love (7/15/84, Greek Theater, University Of California - Berkeley, CA)
12. Revolutionary Hamstrung Blues (3/27/86 Cumberland County Civic Center - Portland, ME)
13. Gentlemen, Start Your Engines (7/31/88 Laguna Seca Recreation Area - Monterey, PA)
For more details about this album and other Dead obscurities, check out the book "Grateful Dead FAQ," available in stores and at Amazon.com. For more, see the comments section, Deadheads.