on November 9, 2010
The Grateful Dead's "American Beauty" was their sixth release, but arguably their first really professionally recorded album. The album was recorded at Wally Heider's new studio in San Francisco in August and September 1970 by Steve Barncard. Garcia liked the sound of the studio when he recorded steel guitar on Crosby, Still, Nash & Young's "Deja Vu". Steve was especially good at capturing acoustic instruments of which there is plenty of, and this album was certainly a second installment of "Wokingman's Dead", with again, no experimenting or jamming. Though not your typical Dead presentation, it is full of great tunes and performances, and many consider it their favorite Dead album. It is one of mine.
In 2004 Rhino issued this remastered version that contains a two sided disc. The CD side is your regular 44.1kHz/16 bit release of the album. The DVD side has the entire album in 5.1 surround sound and in higher 96kHz/24 bit resolution. It also has the entire album in stereo 192kHz./24 bit resolution.
Though not remixed, the CD side does not sound nearly as good as the regular CD issue and box issues from Rhino that were remastered in HDCD by Joe Gastwirt and contain bonus tracks. On the DVD side, both the 5.1 and stereo versions credit Mickey Hart (yes, their drummer) as Surround Sound and Stereo Remix Producer, Sound Design, Engineer and Mixer, with Tom Flye as Chief engineer and Mastering Supervisor. The remix will be interesting to serious Dead Heads as there are many new things to listen for. For example; it seems that with the new mix, faders were often left up so you can hear instrument and vocal parts that were originally removed. This is fun stuff to hear, no doubt. There are also many song intros and outros to hear for the first time.
The problem with the DVD side is the very poor fidelity. Even with the higher bit words and sampling rates, it sounds very flat and congested in the sense of soundstage, dynamics and timbre. Even with the separation of surround sound, the instruments are not as individualized as they should be. For example, the emotion of Garcia's pedal steel and Wales' organ solos on "Candyman" are buried. There is also an added reverberation effect to the entire work that makes the remix sound like you are listening to the band doing a sound check in a small auditorium. This changes the entire feel of the album for the worse in my opinion. The original recording is studio dry and sounds like the band came over and are playing in my home as if we were friends. It is much more intimate with more presence, detail and better tonal balance than this remix. My favorite issue is still the MFSL analog LP.
The DVD includes a photo gallery (thirteen photos) and two short interviews; one with Mickey Hart about his remix approach, and one with Bob Weir about writing "Sugar Magnolia".
"It's the same story the crow told me it's the only one he knows..." Yes, we have heard the story. You know...how the Grateful Dead were great in concert, but for reasons unknown, were never able to "catch lightning in a bottle", when it came time to going into the studio to produce an album. Well folks, that's a myth that's disproven with this remastered, re-release (w/ bonus tracks) of the Dead's 1970 classic, "American Beauty". This is a band, who never cared to be pigeonholed in one musical catagory or genre. As the 1960's ended the record industry pretty much had the them pegged as an experimental psychedelic band, who couldn't make much of a dent in the charts.But just when you zig the G.D. would zag and do the unexpected. They refined and simplified both their song writing craft and their vocal performances, creating a beautiful collection of rock, country, folk & blues songs, that were new and modern, but at the same time felt like they wouldn't be out of place being played a half century earlier.The album starts on a high note of perfection with "Box of Rain", bassist, Phil Lesh's ode to his dying father. This is a tuneful, powerful song, which is just an outpouring of emotion.The album's high quality of song writing and performances continues all the way to the last note of the last song, the band's autobiographical rocker, "Truckin". Other highlights include tunes such as "Friend of the Devil", the lively country rocker, "Sugar Magnolia" and the zen like sing-along, "Ripple". But to be truthful, there isn't a clunker in the bunch.The songs seem to easily work together creating an almost historical/emotional portrait of the American spirit and psyche. Many of these songs would become standards in the band's concert repertoire, going through substantial changes over the next twenty-five years. But there is just something 'perfect' about their original incarnations captured here. I wouldn't change a note! This classic has now been re-released with the sound remastered. Any sonic mud has been removed and you can now hear each guitar, mandolin and vocal with the utmost clarity (I'm in stereo geek heaven!) The live bonus tracks are great, but not essential, though I did really enjoy the unlisted "Grateful Duck/Nixon" radio ad track, which perfectly captures the spirit of the band and the early 1970's era. This album is as close to perfection as the Grateful Dead were ever able to achieve in a studio setting. Yes,"lightning was captured in the bottle". It's a true classic, that belongs in any serious rock n' roll fan's CD collection!
on January 14, 2015
This is probably the best studio album they ever made -- the lyrics are unforgettable, the harmonies lovely, the playing loose and sweet. My only complaint is ...
Why in the sam hell did they ruin such a great album by adding a bunch of dreadful "bonus cuts"? There's a nice jam on one of the live versions of "Truckin'" but the others are uninspired, badly recorded, and ... here's the really awful part ... the vocals are so completely off key that you can't even guess what notes they were trying to hit. I mean, off key even by the usually low standards of live Dead performances. How did anyone listen to these and say "oh, yeah, put that on the album, people will thank us for it!" Yeech. I always run to the stereo after the original version of "Truckin'" ends so I don't have to listen to the rest.
on November 28, 2012
Continuing the groundwork they gracefully showcased with Workingmanâ€™s Dead,
The Grateful Dead scored an equally great hit with this landmark album in 1970, as
the latter topped the rock charts while it became the Deadâ€™s crowning achievement.
What would turn out to be there crowning achievement, American Beauty definitely
lives up to itâ€™s official title where it weaves a quilt of modern-day American campfire
classics, where it is made from bluegrass, country and western, pop and rock, as it
truly define itâ€™s timeless brand of folk-rock and a band with a real cult-like following.
Starting off with the opening strums on the opening track Box Of Rain, The Deadâ€™s
landmark creative songwriting skills hit there apex on the stirring track set where it
proceed with Brokedown Palace, Candyman, Ripple and Attics Of My Life, as they
successfully broaden the subjects of love, loss, consolidation, hope, determination
and friendship. Plus, David Grisman gives his mandolin support for Friend Of The
Devil, and what make this landmark masterpiece especially ironic is the way that it
had provided the music world with two Top Ten hits: Sugar Magnolia and the even
bandâ€™s travelogue signature hit Truckinâ€™. Digitally-remastered in itâ€™s own expanded
format, American Beauty contains a swinging set of live bonus takes on Friend Of
The Devil, Till The Morning Comes, Attics Of My Life and Truckinâ€™, a couple single
version of Ripple and Truckinâ€™, as well as a newly rediscovered radio commercial,
American Beauty is both a timeless masterpiece and an important testament from
The Grateful Dead that will certainly live on for the ages.
on November 28, 2003
The Dead sound has never been captured in a studio but American Beauty was undoubtedly their best studio album if not the best country/folk/rock album ever released. The remastering of this beautiful collection of songs is well worth owning and the sound quality is wonderful.This was the Dead at the absolutely peak of their creative powers both in terms of the compositions and the musicianship. The influence of Crosby Stills Nash and Young is evident in the harmonizations but the Dead were certainly more on the edge. The lryical tunes that make up this recording are some of my alltime favorite Dead songs. Ripple, Box of Rain, Sugar Magnolia.
"If you go , no one may follow. That path is for your steps alone"
on January 24, 2000
Whenever somebody asks for an intro to the Grateful Dead, this is one CD I lend. It captures Hunter and Garcia at the peak of their songwriting. Musically, it's the most accessible Dead album.
Garcia once said that recording a studio album was like building a ship in a bottle, while playing a show was like going out to sea in a rowboat. American Beauty is an exquisite ship-in-a-bottle.
on January 12, 1999
No album catches the mood of the early 70s better than the Dead's "American Beauty". No album is more indicative of the Dead's greatness than this one. Few albums in rock history are so chock full of great songs as this one. There's one that's sure to hit even the most ardent anit-Dead listener's ears pleasingly. And the well renowned Dead harmonies have never been richer. This is the album that made me a Dead fan, albeit belatedly. And no Dead concert to come would ever be complete without one of the many "Beauty" cuts like "Ripple, Sugar Magnolia, Friend of the Devil, Truckin, Candyman, Operator," or "Till the Morning Comes." If one wants to lose themselve completely and get lost in another time and place, then turn off the lights, snuggle next to the fire place, and get together with your favorite beverage (!) and flip on American Beauty. You'll be driving down unexploited country roads on a sunny summer day with the top down, in your mind. A rock masterpiece!
on December 27, 2004
The point of the Dead, of course, is their live shows. When the band was on their game, there was nobody better on earth. I've been a Deadhead for twenty years, and although there are an awful low of sloppy shows out there, there are also lots of recordings available online, for free, of shows that will make you laugh out loud, they're so good. For example, if you're a newbie, go to archive.org and download the Barton Hall show from 1977.
The Dead were not, however, a studio band. Free-form jamming and stuff like learning to play the slide guitar onstage did not mix well with studio work. Except for here. This album contains some of their finest songs, carefully rehearsed, beautifully played, and stripped down. The music is deceptively simple, which you can only pull off if the songwriting is really strong. This is.
And the music is haunting. If you ever had a dream, or were a child, or spent any time alone, or remember, this music will enter you and will not leave, ever.
on February 10, 2005
First, a confession--I never was a Dead fan. That said, this is one fine album made better by DVD-Audio surround sound. The primarily acoustic instruments are well recorded (at the legendary Wally HEider studios in S.F.), and the layered vocal harmonies are gorgeous--a real surprise, given the Dead's lack of a standout lead vocalist.
And there's absolutely no fat here--no noodling solos anywhere--indeed many songs don't even _have_ instrumental breaks. The focus here is squarely on songwriting--mostly by the team of Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter, with standout turns by Phil Lesh, Bob Weir and Ron "Pigpen" McKernan. "Truckin'" is the most famous tune of the bunch, but they are all good--and are made that much better by the 5.1 surround sound mix.
Buy it--even if you don't have a DVD-Audio player, the DVD will play in dolby digital 5.1 sound on all normal DVD players--and it also sound very fine indeed!
on August 16, 2015
Background: I like to purchase both new and (more economically) used CDs and rip them into iTunes myself. I find ripping my own CD's gives me better control over music quality and file size while reducing a-la-carte MP3 pricing. I realize many audiophiles may scoff at me for using iTunes in the first place, but I suspect there are many more iTunes users out there who need to know what I discovered about HDCD.
The CD that I received is the 2001 Rhino Re-Issue. It, along with Workingman's Dead, is my first HDCD purchase. I love every track on both original albums (the extra tracks are hit and miss). I'm going to assume you already know and love the album and I am going to focus on sound quality.
In my HDCD equipped Blu-Ray player the sound quality was AMAZING. As direct data piped into my HDCD equipped Yamaha receiver the sound quality was AMAZING. Importing into iTunes resulted in TERRIBLE sound quality. The poor sound quality was independent of ripping format or bitrate settings. Even my 10 year old, raised with low bitrate MP3's and poor quality earbuds, could easily discern the "good" version from the "bad".
After much arduous research online, I discovered that HDCD is owned by Micro$oft and (as far as I was able to find) there is no HDCD decoder for Apple. I was able to discover there are several Windows CD ripping programs that can convert HDCD into WAV and other file types that retain the excellent sound this disc renders when played in an actual CD player (as opposed to a computer or iPod). Some programs are free and some are not. I settled on purchasing dBpoweramp to run on my Windows 7 machine (there is an Apple version, but it doesn't process HDCD digital signal processing). After creating a full quality CD rip, stripped of the HDCD encoding, I was able to put the files into iTunes using a USB drive.
I am happy to report that my iTunes version now also sounds AMAZING.
In the end, this is a great album with great sound quality, but bringing HDCD into Apple's walled sonic garden was work. In the future I will try and by used CD's from the 1990's to avoid HDCD encoding issues.