Like inhabitants of an overcrowded space station, the Grateful Dead and their tie-dyed following seem to blissfully exist outside the world as we know it. While the band tours incessantly and Dead concerts are almost always sellouts, many people just shrug and say, "Who cares?"
Yet not everyone, as this tribute to Jerry Garcia and his aged merry men attests, feels so indifferent. Fifteen hacks by guest artists, including sometime Dead keyboardist Bruce Hornsby and Suzanne Vega, have reinterpreted Dead classics.
By covering the songs, these performers are indirectly exposing their fans to the original, if antiquated, Dead sound. Strangely, though, most of the tracks are played close to the original versions, as if to avoid sacrilege.
There are notable exceptions. Burning Spear offers a silky, reggae-inspired lake on "Estimated Prophet," a Bob Weir song that went nowhere on the Dead's Terrapin Station album. Jane's Addiction delivers a farflung but creative version of "Ripple," using a persistent jungle drum rhythm and crunching guitars. Other fun cuts include Dwight Yoakam doing the Dead's signature song, "Truckin'," and the Indigo Girls' gorgeous camp-fire rendition of "Uncle John's Band."
There's not enough risk-taking to give the Dead's music new perspective. But the album does cut into the druggie haze hovering over the band. Part of the proceeds goes to two San Francisco environmental groups, the Rainforest Action Network and Cultural Survival. (Arista)