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New Riders of the Purple Sage: 17 Pine Avenue
Birthed (as they say) because Jerry Garcia wanted an outlet to play pedal steel, David Nelson and Marmaduke Dawson probably would’ve started a band anyway, and the New Riders of the Purple Sage have thusly galloped onward for most of the past four decades. Buddy Cage replaced Garcia in ’72 and Marmaduke died last year, but on board for this incarnation is semi-unretired Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter — who, in some alternate universe, is the only true frontman when Furthur plays the songs he wrote with Jerry Garcia. Hunter has surfaced occasionally, most recently collaborating with Bob Dylan on 2009’s somewhat unambitious (though completely welcome) Together Through Life. 17 Pine Avenue finds him in much more natural form, co-penning seven songs with Nelson, steeped in the same Bay Area folkwaters as Garcia and Hunter themselves, where they played together in the Wildwood Boys. 17 Pine Avenue’s glorious centerpiece is “Suite at the Mission,” which rings like a lost Garcia/Hunter number cut from the same sad-sack existential cloth as “Wharf Rat,” “Mission in the Rain,” and countless others, weary and triumphant. Cage’s pedal steel lays tearful bed for Nelson’s craggy delivery of Hunter’s words, a familiar world opening up instantly. Hunter’s in somewhat looser form elsewhere (like the f-bombed “No Time”) and filled with boogie wisdom of the “U.S. Blues” variety, like “Six Of One.” The New Riders do him pretty alright. The album’s other five tunes aren’t nearly as elegant, but that’s not their fault, and it’s a nice dispatch from Hunter and the New Riders’ American west, a shared dreamscape at sunset.
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