Review: Ace Was the Place That Marked Bob Weir’s Solo Debut

Bob Weir/Ace – 50th Anniversary Expanded Edition/Grateful Dead/Rhino/Warner Records 
Four Out of Five Stars

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Ace, Bob Weir’s solo debut, was an auspicious event, especially given the fact that the various members of the Dead had yet to fully embrace the idea of taking individual outings beyond the boundaries of what was very much a communal combo. Jerry Garcia’s Garcia and Mickey Hart’s Rolling Thunder established the precedent, but in the case of Ace, the ties were still intact. All the offerings save one became staples of the Dead’s set list, and at least two of the songs — “One More Saturday Night” and “Playing in the Band” — had been previously released, the former as a stand-alone single to promote the band’s upcoming European tour, and the latter on the live Grateful Dead, which had been issued the previous year. “Mexicali Blues, another of the album’s stand-outs, would later surface on the Dead compilation, Skeletons from the Closet. The familiarity factor was further affirmed by the fact that “Greatest Story Ever Told” and “Playing in the Band” could first be found on Hart’s Rolling Thunder album.

It’s also worth noting that by all practical means, Ace could be construed as a Dead album in both music and mantra. All the members of the band, save Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, played on the record.

Nevertheless, there was no cause to diminish Ace in any way. As this 50th anniversary rerelease proves, it was an excellent stand-alone effort, with the aforementioned “Playing in the Band” and “One More Saturday Night” among the best offerings in the entire Dead canon. It also gave Weir the opportunity to move to the forefront, and if he didn’t necessarily overshadow Garcia in the process, he certainly proved he was every bit an equal. “Looks Like Rain” in particular showed he had the emotional resonance and reserve to carry a ballad of heartfelt proportion.

This revisit to the original album carries a bonus in the form of a concert with Weir’s current combo, The Wolf Brothers, recorded in April of last year at New York’s Radio City Music Hall. The band replays each of the songs from the original album in the original running order, giving added emphasis to the durability of each of the album’s offerings. Weir’s vocals are still fully fueled and formidable, effectively recalling the force and ferocity that marked the original renditions. An impassioned duet between him and guest Brittney Spencer on “Looks Like Rain” brings out its full emotional resolve, while an extended instrumental interlude added to the coda of “Playing in the Band” effectively recalls the Dead’s improvisational abilities. “Mexicali Blues” comes across as a rousing romp of a tune, aided and abetted by the Wolfpack New Orleans-style brass. Likewise, Weir gives “One More Saturday Night” an additional enthusiasm that effectively complements the reckless resolve of the original.

Ultimately, it’s nice to know that the young rebellious rocker and an elder, more seasoned statesman still share so much in common.

Photo by Todd Michalek / Sacks & Co.

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