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There and back again: Phil Leah & friends.

Phil Lesh & Friends

There and Back Again

Columbia / Sony

A NEW GIFT of life is always something special. A case in point is the first studio album by the quintet fronted by Phil Lesh, charter bassist for the pioneer jam band The Grateful Dead.

Now 62, Lesh received a liver transplant in 1998, and he fronts an ambitious ensemble that also includes lead guitarists Warren Haynes (Gov't Mule, Allman Brothers) and Jimmy Herring (Jazz Is Dead), drummer John Molo (Bruce Hornsby and the Range) and keyboardist Rob Barraco (Zen Tricksters).

The group stretches out and redefines Dead standards in concert, and now augments its repertoire with this 11-song set of 10 originals and a cover of the late-era Dead concert staple Liberty.

While Lesh's gift of new life is the most obvious, this project is also the revitalization of Robert Hunter, the inimitable primary lyricist for the Dead for their 30-year run. After band leader Jerry Garcia died in 1995, Hunter lost an outlet for his craft, but he has it again with this band; the album includes six of his songs.

It is not at all a stretch to suggest that the entire album, There and Back Again, is a celebration of the gift of life. Celebration, the gospel rocker that opens the disc, has all the trademarks of Lesh's legacy and of his band today.

While most of the Hunter pieces are given melodies by Lesh and/or Haynes, there are a couple of wrinkles. Herring does the music for Again and Again, and while this is not the strongest of the Hunter lyrics, it is a swirling and pretty piece sung by Barraco.

Barraco also fronts his own composition Leave Me Out Of This, a holdover from his days as part of the Dead cover band The Zen Tricksters which, interestingly enough, is one of the few times the band shows in the studio the stretched-out jamming that marks them live.

Lesh has songwriting credits on five numbers, including Celebration and Night Of A Thousand Stars. Except for Midnight Train, they are all wonderful. No More Do I is another collaboration with Hunter, a song that serves as a clear statement of purpose by a mortality-aware character expressing his love to his soulmate.

The album There and Back Again is a journey with plenty of circles and welcome returns.
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Publication:Anglican Journal
Article Type:Sound Recording Review
Date:Oct 1, 2002
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