Elijah
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Elijah

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The best kept secret in music

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Dream of Trudy - Elijah
Mike Greenhaus
2003-11-28

self-released

Jerry Garcia's ghost haunts Elijah. Partly composed of Garcia's longtime companions, including Jerry Garcia Band anchor Melvin Seals and Legion of Mary player Martin Fierro, the septet know how the legendary guitarist sounded on and off the stage. So it's not surprising that Elijah's first performance was at a Jerry Garcia memorial.

Dream of Trudy is a hippie album in the truest sense. Packing in a smorgasbord of Bay Area players, many of whom have played in Seals' post-Garcia JGB, Elijah is a spirited mix of the Grateful Dead guitarist's friends and apprentices. Since most of the group's lineup began playing with Garcia, or absorbing his music, during the 1970s it's no wonder that era energies Elijah's sound. Starting in the 1970s, Garcia's affinity for gospel and jazz began to drive his self-titled side project and color his hippie-rock cocktail hour Wake of the Flood-era Dead composition. Elijah stirs all these elements into Dream of Trudy quite successfully. But the element of Garcia's essence that Elijah understand best is his pacing. Incorporating six instrumentalists, plus vocalist Jenna Fretto, into a dozen songs, most of which border on the five-minute mark, the group could sound manic and cluttered. Instead, Elijah choreograph a slow, steady waltz. Each note from guitarists Craig Wright and Daniel Fretto is allowed to echo before fading back into the album's musical core, while Fierro's saxophone solos recall the jazz-fusion that Branford Marsalis added to the Jerry Garcia Band during his guest spots.

Elijah also mixes the Dead's darkly spirited guitar jams with JGB's organic gospel. It's the type of album that has no qualms exploiting its Garcia lineage, creating a living tribute to the fallen axe-man. But even when the group ventures into decisively Dead waters, they use JGB's church-sound as a structural handle. Not surprisingly, Melvin Seals is the emotional center of Dreams of Trudy. In many ways, Seals is the pastor of improvisational music. Combining his secular organ and affinity for gospel with the Grateful Dead psychedelia, Seals has helped keep the Jerry Garcia Band alive for eight years. An anchor in the JGB and leader of his own Melting Pot, Seals has also helped make gospel a jamband catchphrase. So it makes perfect sense that his organ and piano contributions give Dreams of Trudy an up-lifting underbelly. Tracks like "Sparkletooth" and "Spook the Horse" both emphasize his keyboards, without focusing on them. Playing sideman to Garcia for many years, Seals always sounded best in an auxiliary role. Used to spice up Wright's solos, Seals is a valuable addition to Elijah and the group, Intern, is one of the finest post-Garcia projects he's taken part in.

Elijah's founder and front man, Craig Wright, also plays like Jerry Garcia's kin. Though he never performed regularly with Garcia, Wright has "Dark Stars"'s high-pitched lingering chords down to a science. Like Steve Kimock, he adds a bit of fusion to the mix, but still relies of Garcia's licks to pump up Dream of Trudy's tracks -- most of which he penned. A teacher by trade, Wright has clearly studied Garcia's performances, incorporating a variety of west coast textures into his compositions. His writing is long and flowing, a mix of fiction and psychedelia.

Dream of Trudy flows like a Dead album. Opening with a few shorter, yet sonically solid numbers, it takes the septet a few songs to really dip into instrumental improvisation. At first, the album opening "An Offering" seems gentle and rustic, but then lifts off into more jazzy space. "Everyone's a Sweetheart" acts as the album's emotional masterpiece -- a nice minute jam akin to "Eyes of the World" that lets Wright's long solos shine. "Presto" plays like a long-lost JGB cut, led by Seals' crunching organ lines. Nodding to Bob Weir, "An Offering" and "Spook the Horse" both hint at some of his acoustic cowboy numbers, while the well-titled "Cowboy Song" evokes the twangy storytelling of The Beatles' "Rocky Raccoon." It's the type of fun, less experimental, music that allowed Garcia to have freedom outside the Dead's serious church-like atmosphere and which will never be labeled as smug or self-indulgent.

The Jerry Garcia Band was always a jovial group. Recorded live, Dreams of Trudy has spontaneity that colored the live, intimate performances Garcia played with his solo projects. "High Road" has catchy, sing-along lyrics that Deadheads will no doubt embrace during a drunken club show. It's fun, spirited music, if not overly original. Following Garcia's blue print, Elijah continues to build on his musical foundations. Like a JGB nostalgia act, Wright uses gospel to ground his jams, but also brings in enough Grateful Dead guitar lines to keep Elijah from becoming stale.

Elijah are consciously indebted to the Dead and given the band's memorial origins, one wouldn't want them to borrow too - jambands.com


Discography

Still working on that hot first release.

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

ELIJAH

Elijah was born when Jerry died. Daniel Fretto and Craig Wright's first performance was a memorial for Garcia. Through various rhythm sections Elijah kicked up lots of dust in Southern Oregon and Northern California always maintaining the sublime interplay between Daniel and Craig's guitars and building a strong repertoire of original material. It was during several Elijah performances with Martin Fierro that Martin suggested taking this thing into the studio. He knew some players. Daniel had done his thing with Melvin. They all were into it. We spent a week in the studio in Berkeley, good ol' rock and roll style, (everything's put down live), eating burritos from the little place behind us and having a big time. If you know any of these guys on this record you know we did a lot of laughing that week.