Rhino Records R1 516251 / 603497830824
Format: LP

Musical Performance: ***½
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****

The consensus among fans and critics is that Grateful Dead was primarily a live band, and its studio recordings were rarely good examples of its art. There are exceptions, of course. Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty, both from 1970, have long been considered outstanding and are among the best albums in rock music.

Almost all the Dead’s studio albums have their defenders and detractors among the band’s fans. However, the recordings for Arista Records are probably the most controversial, because they were clear attempts to make the group more commercial.

Terrapin Station

Terrapin Station was the first album the Dead recorded for Arista, and the label asked the band to use an outside producer—something that hadn’t happened since the Dead’s second album, Anthem of the Sun (1968). Keith Olsen, who had worked on very polished albums for Fleetwood Mac, Journey, and other bands, produced Terrapin Station.

Rhino Records, which handles the Grateful Dead’s catalog now, has reissued Terrapin Station on LP. It’s pressed on green vinyl for the American release, and on black vinyl for Europe. I bought a copy of the European release. David Glasser remastered the album using the Plangent Processes Playback System and Chris Bellman cut the lacquers using Glasser’s digital file. The Czech Republic’s GZ Media pressed the vinyl.

I have a CD copy of Terrapin Station, a 1995 reissue of the 1988 CD release on Arista Records. The only mastering credit is for Rick Collins, who mastered the LP in 1977.

Bob Weir and John Perry Barlow wrote “Estimated Prophet,” which opens the album. When I switched from the CD to the new LP on my system, I heard a fuller, meatier sound. I also heard some distortion in spots, which concerned me enough that I was going to return the LP for replacement. When I lifted the stylus, I noticed that it had dredged up something from the grooves—even more concerning. The record-cleaning geek in me, however, saw that as a challenge. I cleaned the record with my Spin-Clean, and vacuumed off the liquid with a KAB EV-1 record cleaner.

When I returned the LP to my turntable after the cleaning, it still sounded full, but the high frequencies were purer than they had been during the initial play. Also, the stylus stayed clean. I compared the LP to the CD again, and heard a more open and substantial sound from the remastered LP. Phil Lesh’s bass, especially, had more definition and push on the new LP—bass lines that receded on occasion on the CD bloomed more fully, and really kept the music moving. Weir’s voice was out in front and more three-dimensional on the new reissue, and I could hear his vocal inflections and phrasing better. His rhythm guitar, which is key to holding the song’s arrangement together, sounded more harmonically complete.

Jerry Garcia’s rhythm guitar also had more impressive tone and completeness, and his single-note runs cut through more resolutely. During the bridge, for example, his guitar lines floated around the rest of the musicians and singers, pulling that portion of the song together. The tone of the envelope filter, the pedal he helped to develop and was using in many of the Dead’s tunes at that point, was more sharply presented on the new LP. It was easier to pick out and locate the interlocking drum and percussion by Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart in the soundstage; on occasion, the clarity of cymbal accents caught me by surprise, in comparison to the reserved presentation of the CD.

I had a similar experience when I went from CD to LP on the Phil Lesh / Peter Monk tune “Passenger.” Weir’s slide guitar sounded thin and unconvincing on the CD, but powerful and intense on the LP. Lesh’s bass popped, and the vocal harmonies by Weir and Donna Godchaux were more layered and nuanced. The drums on the CD sounded blunted, but rang out solidly on the new LP.

Garcia, Hart, Kreutzmann, and Robert Hunter wrote the title composition for the album, a seven-part suite that takes up all of side 2. Olsen added string, choral, and horn passages to the song in postproduction, which displeased Garcia. Live performances of the piece largely reinforce Garcia’s point, but the music as played by the band in the studio version is strong enough to hold up under Olsen’s enhancements.

Terrapin Station

Moving from the CD to the LP, I was again pleased with how much more focused, detailed, and effective Lesh’s bass was, on this track and throughout the album. His bass lines give body and momentum to “Terrapin Station Part 1” and help create a sense of pace and narrative movement to its many parts. The harmony guitar lines in the first solo section were more solidly presented on the LP, and the strings on the piece were better integrated with the rest of the instruments. On the CD, they sounded like a later addition.

Rhythm-guitar parts on the suite were more fully presented on the new LP, and the drums sounded firmer and had more sustain. Cymbals were brighter on the CD, but more tonally convincing on the LP. Keith Godchaux’s synthesizer solo sounded dated on the CD, but was warmer and more musical on the LP. The layered percussion, string, and horn sections during “Terrapin Transit” were better separated and easier to follow on the LP, and more engaging and dynamic overall than on the CD.

This LP reissue of Terrapin Station threw a deeper soundstage on my system than the CD, sounding more layered and much more involving. Credit goes to Glasser’s Plangent Processes mastering, which corrects tape anomalies and other analog recording artifacts, and Bellman’s lacquer cut. I enjoyed their work on the reissue of 1971’s Grateful Dead, and I’d be interested in hearing any other Dead reissues by the pair.

Original pressings of Terrapin Station start at 25 bucks for vinyl in VG+ condition, but if you want one with a cover in decent shape, it’ll cost closer to $40 (in USD). This reissue will set you back $25. Aside from the issues I noted above, my pressing was quiet after a good cleaning, and not so dished that I felt the need to return it. The cover is in the same medium-weight cardboard as the original and repeats the incorrect song sequence listing, which is shown correctly on the inner sleeve.

. . . Joseph Taylor