This monumental 12-disc assemblage presents the band's amazing, long strange trip from 1973 to 1989, encompassing the albums released on their own Grateful Dead Records label and later Arista. It's an essential companion piece on Rhino's first 12-CD Dead box, The Golden Road (1965-1973), which spotlighted the entirety of their early Warner Brothers output and concurrent evolution from a scruffy hippie outfit in the Haight to one of the biggest bands on the planet. Including studio masterpieces and live landmarks alike, Beyond Description enhances this repertoire with the sonic brilliance of 2004 mastering technology and a wealth of newly discovered supplemental material. It's an extraordinary portrait of a legendary band.
As the Grateful Dead story continues with this 12-disc sequel to the equally outsized The Golden Road (1965-1973), the band leaves the relative comfort of the '60s (hey, it suited them just fine) and heads into a period that will provide them with greater rewards as a performing outfit, and greater challenges as a studio entity. The post-'60s Dead floundered nearly as often as they soared--at times haphazardly trying to play the game as defined by more disciplined bands of the '70s and '80s, at other times succeeding almost in spite of themselves. This was a time when they allied themselves with such unlikely coconspirators as hit-minded mogul Clive Davis (after their own label fell by the way) and Fleetwood Mac producer Keith Olsen. They consciously reached for commercial gold and fell short, then found it on their own terms--by recording the 1987 studio album In the Dark in a vacant auditorium.
As with the first Rhino box, Beyond Description (1973-1989) gets the kind of state-of-the-art remastering one would expect from the sonically ambitious bunch. Again, each disc is fleshed out with smartly selected outtakes, demos, and live recordings. Two thoroughly annotated and strikingly illustrated booklets pull the package together. This is where the long, strange trip leads, and if there were some wrong turns along the way, so be it. That's what happens when you don't follow the map. --Steven Stolder
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