American Beauty - Warner Brothers 1970
I used to think that "Workingman's Dead" with songs like "Uncle John's Band," "Dire Wolf" and "Casey Jones" must be the strongest Grateful Dead album. After listening carefully to "American Beauty" there is no doubt that I have to reconsider my opinion. Where the "Uncle John's Band" has a few less interesting numbers, "American Beauty" comes out as a full set album. Stylistically the two albums, of course, are very close to each other, with the emphasis that is placed in magnificent vocal harmonies, with considerable inspiration from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
Grateful Dead's songwriting is troughout the album marked by both inspiration and creativity and many of the group's most beloved songs can be found here. First and foremost, the bluesy "Truckin '" is highlighted because it was a great concert favorite, the closest the group came to a single hit, and of course because it's nice song.
Otherwise, it is the country / folk-inspired songs that dominate with "Box of Rain", "Sugar Magnolia," "Ripple" and "Till the Morning Comes" as my personal favorites.
The magnificent vocals are particularly expressed in the hymn-like "Attics of My Life", which also help make this album an unforgettable milestone.
More upbeat is "Friend of the Devil" and "Operator", the latter written and sung by Ron McKernan. Otherwise, it is as usually Jerry Garcia who is the most prolific songwriter, with Phil Lesh and Bob Weir contributing with the classics "Box of Rain" and "Sugar Magnolia".
In addition to the single versions of "Truckin '" and "Ripple" the bonus tracks consist of fine live recordings from various concerts played in 1970. Fine sound and great performances.