Written by Andrew Howie
Bob Weir is in a category of his own. As one of the founding members of the Grateful Dead, he has played more music onstage than most will listen to in their lifetime. He filled out their expansive sound with his jazz-piano-turned-desert-country style, inverting chords and complimenting Jerry’s incomparable lead. He was only 16 when the band took shape, and seeing as they just celebrated their 50th anniversary, Bob Weir (just “Bobby” to most Deadheads) has effectively given his entire life to music. It should come as no surprise then, that just a few after Fare Thee Well, and right on the heels of a massive Dead and Co. tour, comes Blue Mountain.
His first new album of entirely new material in over 30 years, this is the very essence of Bob Weir distilled into sonic form. Dusty cowboy music from the soul of someone who actually lived the life we picture when we think of Wild West rock stars. From the day he jumped on the bus with Jerry, he was clearly destined to play music. Bluesy, heartfelt, mostly acoustic, singalong songs that take you on a slow ride through the big country. You can hear the places he’s been, the things he’s seen, and the people he’s known. Bob is just one of those players who you can’t picture doing anything else, and Blue Mountain feels like it just poured out of him without any effort.
As usual, I recommend listening to the entire album in one uninterrupted session, but if you’re looking for highlights, album opener “Only a River” puts a smile on your face right away. “Lay My Lily Down” stands out early on, telling the tragic tale of a father burying his daughter. Other standouts include “Whatever Happened to Rose,” “Ki-Yi Bossie” (telling the story of a raucous night filled with rock ‘n’ roll tropes like whiskey and cocaine), and “Storm Country.” The real treat, however, is album closer “One More River to Cross.”
Bobby and the Dead went through so many transformations and experienced a great deal of hardship throughout their long, strange trip, but their music means more than words can ever say to a vast legion of fans, many of whom devoted their existence to following the band. One could say they crossed many rivers in their journey. They experienced so much, and now in their twilight years they are still performing. The repeated chorus of “One More River to Cross” is heartbreaking, as you can hear Bobby acknowledging he doesn’t have much time left. He’s almost 70, and he’s the youngest member of the Dead. His reflections on his existence are poetic, timeless, and appreciative of all he’s been able to accomplish. He sounds at peace.
Bob Weir is an American icon, and he won’t stop playing music until the day he dies. The songs he helped create have done so much for so many (myself included), and he clearly was meant for this life. I don’t know if he’ll release another album, but if this is his last studio hurrah, he should be proud of it. Subdued but not boring, stories within stories, gritty Old West blues-folk.
If you’ve been a fan of the Dead, you’ve probably already listened, but if you’re not, I urge you to listen to this and learn a bit about their history. Bob created music that will be played a hundred years from now, from young players just starting out at open mic nights to full-fledged arena covers (imagine the tribute show they’ll put together when the Dead have all collectively passed on). Listen to this record and feel the history, the love, pain, joy, and tragedy all at once. Get lost in the desert with one of the last cowboys.
Rating: 9 out of 10