The Canyon Lake Times Guardian

The Grateful Dead, the Dead, Donna Jean Godchaux, Joan Osborne Sam Andrew and Bob Margolin

By Paul Heidelberg

When I first planned this review, I envisioned it focusing on singer and songwriter Joan Osborne. The plan has broadened a bit. I bought Osborne’s “Pretty Little Stranger” CD after hearing her excellent cover of the Grateful Dead classic “Brokedown Palace” several times on the radio. As I wrote in an earlier review, if Jerry Garcia were still with us, I am sure he would love her version.
As I write this review, I am listening to three CDs: Osborne’s “Pretty Little Stranger,” the Grateful Dead’s “American Beauty,” where “Brokedown Palace” first appeared, and the Heart of Gold Band’s “At The Table.” In recent years, Osborne has performed with the Dead – after Garcia’s passing, the new group goes by that name. Well the lead singer in the Heart of Gold Band is Donna Jean Godchaux, the Grateful Dead’s only female singer back in its original incarnation, from the early 70s to the late 70s.
I first saw Godchaux perform on a DVD release compiled from The Grateful Dead’s New Year’s Eve concerts in San Francisco (originally broadcast on San Francisco public television station KQED, it doesn’t have the quality of Martin Scorsese’s film of The Band’s final concert, “The Last Waltz,” but there are some excellent moments). While researching Osborne, I was surprised to learn she was the singer of the “(What If God Were) One of Us” song she had a big hit with in the 1990s.
“Pretty Little Stranger” has some very good songs, and is worth getting. Her cover of Kris Kristofferson’s “Please Don’t Tell Me How The Story Ends,” is haunting. But it is interesting: I put on the Dead’s (they were known by that name by Deadhead fans long before they dropped the word Grateful) “American Beauty” CD, and I keep listening to it, not the other two CDs in this review. Even if you had the original album on vinyl, the CD is well worth getting. Just like the Rolling Stones’ “Let It Bleed,” when you hear the works in their digitally remastered forms, you really hear the music.
“American Beauty” and “Workingmen’s Dead” were released one after the other. They both contained songs that were very different from the Dead’s acid rock days: they are perfect examples of what is now known as “Americana” music. Jerry Garcia’s singing and excellent steel guitar playing can be as “Americana Strong” as Johnny Cash at his best, or Bob Dylan at the time of his revolutionary album (revolutionary for its unrevolutionary going back to basic country sounds) “Nashville Skyline.” Dylan and the Dead performed together often, of course – I have the CD of that name by them.

Back to Osborne, she has a new CD comprised mainly of old R&B; tunes that was released yesterday, May 22: “Breakfast in Bed.” With her strong, and unique voice, I am sure it is worth getting, just to hear such songs as “Heat Wave” and “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted,” but the little video segment you can find on the Internet produced by Time Life to hype the release is a little too slick for me. After I bought the Grateful Dead’s DVDs of their San Francisco New Year’s concerts, I also purchased the Heart of Gold Band’s CD “At the Table.”

I am listening to it now on a better stereo system than I had when I first heard it, and it is sounding nice.
Godchaux’s beautiful voice is still beautiful; members of the band include her husband and her son – the work is a family affair.

About the time I bought the CD, in early 2004, I had in one day emails from Godchaux, Texan-born Sam Andrew of “Big Brother and the Holding Company,” Bob Margolin, longtime guitar player for blues great Muddy Waters (Margolin received the prestigious John Handy award as best blues guitarist in 2006) and a fellow who knew Janis Joplin when she first went to San Francisco in the early 60s, when the Beatniks were still going strong on Grant Avenue in North Beach and the Summer of Love was still a few years away.
Getting those emails on the same day was the impetus for a writing project I did that took some time to complete, and involves music, among other things. Good music, like good art, can be pretty timeless. Someone singing “This Land is My Land,” can sing that song with the same spirit it had when Woody Guthrie first penned it, and sang it.
I just put on Osborne’s “Brokedown Palace.” That is a fine example of what I just wrote about good music being timeless.

If anything, the song has improved with the years, and with Osborne’s version. It seems more real – you get more of the feeling that someone is singing to someone they love about having to move on, and leaving that other person.
So the bottom line from this review: you could do far worse than to get some sounds by the people I have mentioned. In addition to “Pretty Little Stranger” by Osborne, the CD version of the Dead’s “American Beauty,” and the DVDs of their New Year’s Eve concerts in San Francisco you can find through, and the Heart of Gold Band’s “At The Table,” you can search the Internet for Sam Andrew and Bob Margolin and find other great CDs. I’m just hearing Osborne’s “Please Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends.”
Yeah, that's a strong song.
Hank Williams would probably love that song- not to mention Patsy Cline.
It's good.

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