I have to be honest; I had never heard of Merl Saunders before I put on this disc, and the only Greatful Dead song that I was familiar with was “Touch of Grey”. To say that I was a novice when I put this disc on is to give me credit that I do not deserve. On the other hand, I feel as if I am one of the better people to review this album, as I have no preconceptions of either individual. The tracks on “Well-Matched” will be challenging to the average pop or rock listener, as songs routinely go over 5 minutes; the average track length is nearly seven minutes.
However, unlike many of the progressive rock bands and individuals that have inflated egos, Saunders and Garcia are quite familiar with blues, jazz, and jam band styles. This means that they can keep individuals interested for these extended track lengths. The disc starts off with “Mystery Train”, a song that largely is instrumental. There are some vocals present in the track, but they are decidedly placed in an ancillary role to the guitar work present on the track. The incorporation of different sounds and riffs into the shambling mass that is “Mystery Train” in particular and “Well-Matched” generally means that individuals should tune in and grab a seat, or they might lose some of the narrative that Saunders and Garcia couch in their tracks. The fact that the overall style of a track can change on “Well-Matched” is also something that will keep butts in seats; while “Mystery Train” is a track that can be placed in the jam band genre, “Lonely Avenue” is something that is much more based in a blues tradition. At some point, Saunders and Garcia faithfully reproduce the styles that were tremendously influential to them, something that is shown with their extremely impressive cover of “I Second That Emotion”, a song that was originally written by Smokey Robinson.
The tracks are not something that individuals can just tangentially listen to, as the guitar work on tracks like “Mystery Train” will tug and yank at individuals’ heartstrings. It is simply not possible to remove one’s emotions from the music after one starts up the disc; Saunders and Garcia succeed in creating an album that is for the ages, even as it approaches styles that are nearly 100 years old. You don’t even need to be a fan of either artist to enjoy “Well-Matched”.
Top Tracks: Mystery Train, Lonely Avenue
Merl Saunders & Jerry Garcia – Well-Matched / 2006 Concord / 10 Tracks / http://www.concordmusicgroup.com / Reviewed 26 May 2006