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THE VAULTS / CD REISSUES

'Roots' Digs Up Tunes Redone by the Dead : VARIOUS ARTISTS: "The Music Never Stopped: Roots of the Grateful Dead" Shanachie *** 1/2

October 27, 1995|ROBERT HILBURN

This album is delightful on any terms, but you can have extra fun by playing it for some friends and asking them to figure out what the 17 country, blues, folk and rock recordings have in common.

Unless they're Grateful Dead fans, they'll have a hard time coming up with an answer: All these songs were redone by the Dead.

Who would imagine a band drawing upon musical resources as diverse as the hard-times country of Merle Haggard's "Mama Tried," the rockin' good fun of Chuck Berry's "The Promised Land," the cowboy narrative of Marty Robbins' "El Paso," the folk bite of Bob Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" and the mountain purity of Obray Ramsey's "Rain and Snow"?

It was precisely this affection for classic American roots music that gave the Dead much of its character and appeal.

Blair Jackson's excellent liner notes in the album booklet tell us about the various selections and the parts the individual songs played in the Dead repertoire.

It would have been even better if Shanachie could have turned the album into a two-disc set by including the Dead versions of the songs, but maybe that'll someday be a companion disc.

Meanwhile, "The Music Never Stopped" is thoroughly enjoyable on its own, brightened even further by a cover drawing by R. Crumb that shows some of the album's artists, including Dylan and Haggard, on stage together before a Dead audience. Classy package.

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