THE ALBUM: Grateful Dead, "Go to Heaven," Arista (AL 9508).
THE SHOW: At the Capital Centre, Sunday at 8.
As Dead heads know by now, old hippies never die; they just fade into old musical habits.
Alas, the Grateful Dead are still with us and cranking out their trademark country blues with laid-back guitar and soft-spoken vocals on this year's release, "Go to Heaven." And they'll deliver good old-fashioned '60s-style Southern rock at a Cap Centre concert on Sunday -- perhaps the first notable re-run of the fall season.
Star survivors of the psychedelic era, the Dead has segued into the '80s with some lackluster tunes that smack of the acid-bluegrass formula perfected on-and-off over 15 years. Of course, the Dead made their reputation on the basis of live performances -- wild outdoor festivals and free concerts for giant crowds -- and undoubtedly there's nothing like a live Dead show to revive routine rockers. Then again, their incredibly loyal fans are in heaven the minute the group plugs in to tune their instruments.
But on vinyl, there's less to cheer about. Next to their earlier gems like "Workingman's Dead" and "American Beauty" (studio albums released in 1970 and 1971 respectively), the latest LP is a pale addition to a lengthy catalog. Where "Uncle John's Band" and "Sugar Magnolia" are etched in druggy memories, "Go to Heaven" offers only a couple of new songs that stay fresh after one play.
The distinctive "Alabama Getaway" is best: a straightforward high-speed rock tune with no pretense, written by ringleader/guitarist Jerry Garcia and longtime Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. Keyboardist Brent Mydland scores points with "Far From Me," a soothing, sobbing number full of bittersweet sentiment. The sound is nothing new, but it's pleasing with high vocal harmonies wailing behind Garcia's still-masterful meandering electric guitar solos.
Garcia also deserves credit for his rearrangement of the traditional "Don't Take Me In," an energized, electrified version of an old jug-band tune that's among the catchiest on the album.
Other tracks show no vital signs; without memorable melodies they have little to recommend them besides nostalgia for the acid-test pranksters and their musical cohorts of the past. Most boring of all is "Feel Like A Stranger," an endlessly thudding complaint written by Bob Weir and lyricist John Barlow.
In short, despite some likable cuts, the idea of a new Dead album is more exciting than the LP itself. It will take a new generation of Dead heads to make a platinum seller out of this one.