Listen to The War On Drugs covering “Touch Of Grey,” Courtney Barnett covering “New Speedway Boogie” and more from The National’s Grateful Dead tribute comp

the war on drugs
The War on Drugs | Photo by Kate McCann |

Confession: I’ve never considered myself a “Deadhead.” Every once in a while when I was growing up, my dad would play “Friend of the Devil” or “Brokedown Palace” (pretty much just American Beauty). I’ve always enjoyed their music, but I’ve really only scratched the surface when it comes to their immense catalogue of live recordings, Dick’s Picks, and journeys into psychedelia.

But when it comes to songwriting and capturing the American experience, The Grateful Dead really were one of the greatest bands of the past 50 years. The National knows this, and apparently 58 other hugely successful bands and musicians do as well. That’s why the Dessner’s (Bryce & Aaron of The National) have assembled the outrageously massive Day Of The Dead tribute compilation, which features everyone from Bruce Hornsby to Wilco, Philly’s The War on Drugs to Bob Weir himself covering classic Dead tunes from their earliest stages up until present day.

Each of these artists contain a prevalent and obvious Dead influence, and the songs they each have chosen to cover make a little too much sense. Today marks the first taste we will be getting from Day Of The Dead (which Aaron Dessner said are not “singles” or “favorite tracks”, just a sample). Just from listening to The National’s open-air production and slicing guitars on the expansive “Morning Dew” to Bruce Hornsby and DeYarmond Edison‘s 80’s cheese on “Black Muddy River”, you can tell these guys have been Deadheads for most of their lives.

When I first read that Philly’s The War On Drugs would be playing “Touch Of Grey,” I laughed at how MUCH sense that made but also sighed at how much it would probably sound like the original. But that’s not the case; singer/guitarist Adam Granduciel takes liberties with Garcia’s original melody and adds a breezy harmonica, creating his own song while still utilizing that Lost In The Dream-signature guitar tone that made perfect sense for the In The Dark opener.

Courtney Barnett‘s “New Speedway Boogie” sounds like a lost, dark Sometimes I Sit b-side, and hopefully she’ll bust it out when she comes to the Electric Factory in May (tickets can be found here).

Phosphorescent and Jenny Lewis’s take on “Sugaree” is a sped-up dance groove that takes on a bluesy life of its own while at the same time becoming the life of the party.

This “first taste” is only the beginning: Kurt Vile & J. Mascis‘s “Box Of Rain”, Lucius on “Uncle John’s Band”, and Wilco and Bob Weir’s live cut of “St. Stephen” are still on the way. And that’s still only scratching the surface. Come May, I may just become a Deadhead after all.

Proceeds from Day Of The Dead will go to support Red Hot, an organization that works to cure HIV/AIDS. The digital release, 5 CD box-set, and limited edition vinyl will be available May 20th (full tracklist with artists and songs can be seen here). Listen to a couple more songs from the Grateful Dead tribute compilation below.



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