A Case For Bob Weir’s Ace

The Dead man’s solo debut gets a belated 50th anniversary revisit

Ace advert in Rolling Stone (Image: eBay)

Bob Weir’s Ace wasn’t the first solo album from the Grateful Dead combine  — Jerry Garcia’s Garcia and Mickey Hart’s Rolling Thunder came first.

But given the fact that Garcia’s album almost seemed to be a given due to his leadership role in the band and Hart had turned in his walking papers, Weir’s solo spin held some special significance. For one thing, it elevated his role in the band to that of a frontman whose presence rivaled that of Garcia’s. For another, it birthed songs that would become an indelible part of the Dead’s set in years to come — “One More Saturday Night,” “Playing in the Band,” “Cassidy,” and “Back Throated Wind” being among the most prominent.

Another song would surface later, “Mexicali Blues,” which eventually appeared on the compilation, Skeletons from the Closet. 

That said, certain songs had already made previous appearances elsewhere. “Greatest Story Ever Told” and “Playing in the Band” were both featured on Hart’s album, while “One More Saturday Night” was the B side of a single intended to promote the tour that was eventually released on record as Europe ’72.

In fact, one might argue that Ace wasn’t really a true solo album at all given the fact that every member of the Dead, save Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, played a role in the album’s creation.

Bob Weir Ace, Warner Bros. Records 1972

Given those factors and those factoids, Ace is an exceptional effort. Weir conveys a powerful presence, not only courtesy of the superior songs, but also in his strong and sturdy vocals. “Playing in the Band” and “One More Saturday Night” are easily considered two of the more indelible entries in the Dead canon, while “Black Throated Wind” is invested with a degree of emotion that sets it apart distinctly. In fact, there’s not a single entry on the album overall that hasn’t effectively withstood the test of time.

That’s proven courtesy of the live bonus disc that accompanies the album’s 50th anniversary reissue. Recorded last year at Radio City Music Hall, it finds Weir replaying the entire album in the same order as the original. With accompaniment by The Wolf Brothers, Weir pours energy and enthusiasm into each of the selections, and while his vocals don’t seem quite as emphatic as they were the first time around, the stellar arrangements that come courtesy of the the Wolf Bros. — an all-star combo consisting of Don Was on bass, Jay Lane on drums, Jeff Chimenti playing piano and Barry Sless on pedal steel — give the material a rugged resolve that resonates throughout. Brittney Spencer’s shared vocals on “Looks Like Rain” and “Walk in the Sunshine” add a soulful element to the mix, just as Tyler Childers’ guest appearance on “Greatest Story Ever Told” allows for a new and distinctive dynamic. So too, the Wolfpack brass give “Mexicali Blues” a sound that brings to mind the strut and shine of a Mardi Gras band in the midst of street celebration.

As a result, comparing the two discs side by side makes for an interesting contrast between past and present.  It also offers an intriguing lesson on how to revisit a classic album while towing a fine line between staying true to the original and adding nuance and novelty to create added interest.

Credit Weir with giving Ace its place in the present.

 

 

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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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