Album of the week: Day of the Dead – famous Deadheads serve up some Cherry Garcia

Day of the Dead
    
Artist: Various Artists
Genre: Alternative
Label: 4AD

You may not be able to tell from the style of music that their band peddles, but Bryce and Aaron Dessner were teenage Deadheads.

The guitarists and twin brothers both cite The Grateful Dead as a gateway to not only their love of music, but to eventually forming The National. With that in mind, they’ve called upon their fellow musicians – from Bill Callahan to Anohni to Mumford & Sons – to interpret the songs of the iconic and influential band, a project which stemmed from a gig they played with Grateful Dead founding member Bob Weir in 2012.

The Dessners have form in the "charity compilation" stakes; 2009's Dark is the Night raised more than $1 million for Aids charity the Red Hot organisation.

Yet, though it may be hard to criticise a charity album, there’s no question that the length of this one – with three volumes and 59 tracks in total – is off-putting to the casual music fan.


That said, there are some gems to be mined here, whether you’re familiar with the source material or not.

Indiepop band Lucius twist Uncle John's Band into a gloriously contemporary, harmony-strewn zinger; Courtney Barnett tables just the right degree of insouciance for the twangy slouch of New Speedway Boogie; Charles Bradley and the Menahan Street Band add colour, texture and sleazy funk-soul to Cumberland Blues, and Unknown Mortal Orchestra turn Shakedown Street into a song that Prince would be proud of.

Other interpretations are dull enough to skip, most notably Perfume Genius and Sharon Van Etten's To Lay Me Down and The Flaming Lips' characteristically "wacky" job on Dark Star.

If nothing else, however, the genre-crossing array of translations here is testament to The Grateful Dead’s underrated versatility as songwriters.

Lauren Murphy

Lauren Murphy

Lauren Murphy is a freelance journalist and broadcaster. She writes about music and the arts for The Irish Times