The Grateful Dead never aspired to brevity and, so, it’s appropriate the latest tribute album to them clocks in at 59 tracks. It’s a fantastic collection, put together by the Brothers Dessner of The National fame. A veritable who’s who of the indie sphere, it benefits the Red Hot Organization — which raises awareness of AIDS and HIV. So, you should probably buy it. If you’re looking to dip your toe in the pool first, here are the ten best cuts of the lot.
1. “Rubin and Cherise,” Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Friends
This isn’t just one of the best covers I’ve heard this year, it’s one of the best songs period. It’s a fairly faithful rendition of — wait for it — a Jerry Garcia Band song. Right, so it’s not even technically a Dead tune, although the band did play it four times in 1991. Will Oldham & Co. absolutely nail the groovy coasting of Garcia’s original. Oldham also kills “If I Had the World to Give” and “Bird Song,” prompting the thought: Bonnie “Prince” Billy needs to bust out a Dead covers album of his own. Or, at least, cover them constantly on tour.
2. “Here Comes Sunshine,” Real Estate
Another faithful rendition, so much so that the version is a — ahem — Dead ringer for the Wake of the Flood studio take. That is, until Real Estate breaks out a couple of neat time signature moves and, then, a lil jam which would make the progenitors proud. I’ve always thought “Here Comes Sunshine” is an underrated Grateful Dead song; good on Real Estate for bringing it back with such ferocity.
3. “Terrapin Station (Suite),” Daniel Rossen, Christopher Bear, and The National
A couple of Grizzly Bear members team up with the orchestrators of this whole deal for an epic take on an epic tune. Things get weird with aqua-like textures around the five-minute mark in the most riveting of ways.
4. “Attics of My Life,” Angel Olsen
A gorgeous version of the song the remaining members of the Dead chose as the last song for their Fare Thee Well shows.
5. “Playing in the Band,” Tunde Adebimpe, Lee Ranaldo, and Friends
Hell yes: The TV on the Radio frontman lights this song up with the help of avowed Deadhead — and Sonic Youth co-founder — Lee Ranaldo. Dope jam halfway in.
6. “Eyes of the World,” Tal National
Not to be confused with the headlining band, Tal National is a troupe from Niger, Africa. They bring an international flavor to “Eyes,” at once unexpected and rousing.
7. “Box of Rain,” Kurt Vile and the Violators, J Mascis
Vile was born to cover this one.
8. “What’s Become of the Baby,” Stargaze
This is one of the trippier cuts the Dead ever committed to tape — on 1969’s Aoxomoxoa — and the European classical collective, Stargaze, makes it its own, demystifying the song a bit while retaining a far-out vibe.
9. “Uncle John’s Band,” Lucius
A radical departure from the original, this electro-pop take is a stunner. It feels wholly like a new song, but you know the bones remain.
10. “Dark Star,” Cass McCombs and Joe Russo
This one feels like a Dead song — nothing wrong with that.
A note about “Touch of Grey,” by The War on Drugs: People seem to be all about this version, but I’m not that into it. I think it’s a fine take, but also kind of sounds like a cover of The War on Drugs covering The Grateful Dead. That is to say, it strikes me like a parody of what Adam Granduciel would do with the song. It’s worth a listen, though, as is the entire album — all 59 songs of it.