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Picks and Pans Review: In the Dark

updated 08/24/1987 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/24/1987 01:00AM

Grateful Dead

Let's face it. Jerry Garcia and his band of nostalgic nomads could weave Three Blind Mice and Old MacDonald Had A Farm into one of their 40-minute live opuses, and their throngs of Dead-icated fans would probably call it genius. The Grateful Dead exists as a performing band, and the Deadheads who trek across the country to catch each concert are not terribly discerning in their assessment of the group. So why would the Dead put out their first studio album in seven years when probably no one would notice anyway? Answer: They owed their record company the vinyl contractually. Given that not-too-invigorating circumstance, the album is a decent effort. As inconsequential as this 22-year-old band from Haight-Ashbury may seem today, the Dead is also a reminder that music doesn't have to be made for the sake of burning up the charts. The first single, Touch of Grey, takes a light look at coping with life's little setbacks: "The cow is giving kerosene/ Kid can't read at 17/ All the words he knows are obscene/ But it's all right." Keyboardist Brent Mydland does his best Joe Cocker imitation on Tons of Steel, a simple yet effective song about an engineer's passion for his train. The other five tunes alternate between a blues shuffle and more slick pop numbers. The glossier tracks come from guitarist Bob Weir, lyricist John Barlow and Mydland. Black Muddy River, a soulful tune composed by Garcia and his lyricist Robert Hunter, ends the record on a poignant note. It is one of the band's best songs, and its message of finding one's bearings in a troubled world seems informed, inasmuch as Garcia, 45, recently cleaned himself up after a long bout with drugs. At the least, this record might raise some people's expectations of the Dead. (Arista)

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