Aside from his work with the Grateful Dead, which was well over 100 releases, Bob Weir has recorded with his other groups, Kingfish, Bobby and the Midnites, Ratdog, and has been part of a handful of collaborations. His last studio recording was 17 years ago with Ratdog, and he only ever released two solo records, in 1972 and 1978. Now, almost 40 years later, Weir’s third solo album, Blue Mountain, guides listeners to an honest and intimate place in his mind.
It’s called Blue Mountain, but it draws out the brooding feelings associated with a cumbersome trudge through a forest of shadowy memories. There is an unmistakeable aura of relaxing sorrow around a majority of the material. The two opening tracks are powerful, piano-driven ballads that almost overwhelm Bob’s presence. Additionally, the album is mixed with a heavy hand of reverb that casts a soothing fog around the music. Though, it has its lighthearted and upbeat moments like the contented, ambling “Gonesville,” and “Ki-Yi Bossie,” Bob Weir’s only fully-solo addition to the album.
Much of Blue Mountain’s success can be attributed to National member Josh Kaufman, songwriter Josh Ritter, and a mob of extra players and friends as backing musicians, including other National bandmates. Ritter took a large part in writing the songs with Bob, while Kaufman helped produce it and recorded a staggering amount of instruments from acoustic guitar to electric mandolin to synths to the Wurlizter. The rest of the players bring a perfect eclectic fullness to the work, including exceptional guitar-playing by Nate Martinez and vocal performances by the Bandana Splits and Dan Goodwin. Many tracks, such as “Gallop On the Run” and “One More River to Cross,” take an even further step into the atmosphere with brilliant, ethereal guitar work by Aaron and Bryce Dessner of the National.
The whole record has a wizened, folk feel with a splash of outlaw, particularly in songs like the chilling stomp along a dusty past that is “What the Ghost Towns Know.” “Ky-Yi Bossi” and “Dig A Hole (For Lilly)” both have Bob touching on a yodeling vocal style, which he wears well. The elements in Blue Mountain’s lyrics are what one would expect of Weir’s American West fixation, loaded with the imagery of cowfolk fantasies: reveries of moonlit trails, wide meadows, and rolling rivers. For someone of his age and experience, Bob’s vocal efforts are surprisingly good and do the lyrics perfect justice. And despite such a large staff, the record still has room left for songs like the title track “Blue Mountain,” a raw, sentimental chant to the Earth and her wonder, featuring only Bob on the acoustic guitar. Overall, Blue Mountain is a touching gaze into Bob Weir’s most sacred space. It also shows a new side of Weir’s songwriting and personality, one that has clearly aged quite gracefully. The final song, “One More River To Cross” feels like a hopeful tribute to his life and the open range that comes next.
Bob continues his trek with a stop in New Orleans this Tuesday, April 18th. He’ll be playing with the Campfire Band at the Saenger Theatre.