Grateful Dead: New Rennie Pincus CD leaves you feeling, well, ‘Grateful’

Perhaps the highest compliment I can pay the CD “Grateful” is that listening to it left me longing for one of the first Grateful Dead bootleg cassettes I ever owned.

That would be a recording of the infamous band’s June 28, 1985, concert at Hershey Park, in Hershey, Pennsylvania. I likely came into possession of that cassette in 1986 or 1987. And I listened to it back then as an outsider, someone who was puzzled by the Grateful Dead, indifferent to them, confused by it all, definitely perplexed and a bit frustrated that I couldn’t wrap my head around the whole thing. But for some reason, that Hershey show reached me.

I’m sure the location of this show piqued my curiosity and the high quality of the recording enticed me to stick around. Beyond that though, everything seemed so loose, so relaxed, so inviting and so familiar. The feel of the whole thing is what really left me saying, “Yeah. That was great.”

Having seen roughly 200 shows between 1987-1995, I’m coming at it all from a much different perspective now. And that set the perfect stage for a good, hearty listen to “Grateful,” a new CD from New York City-singer-songwriter Rennie Pincus that is raising money for WhyHunger, the organization co-founded by the late musician Harry Chapin to battle hunger. Click here to learn more.

Rennie Pincus

The entire effort from Pincus resonated loudly with me, but it was really his renditions of the songs “Ramble On Rose” and “The Music Never Stopped” that captivated me. The Grateful Dead included both songs in their Hershey Park set list and hearing Pincus deliver them sent me back down a rock-and-roll rabbit hole, to a moment in time when I was captivated by a band I had never seen perform.

Just like the Grateful Dead could be on any night, “Grateful” is earnest, bold, bedazzling, rough, raw, ready and it rocks. Pincus doesn’t hold back and his passion for this band and this music comes through loud and clear.

He’s supported by musicians who know their way around this music from the inside out. And any musical endeavor that features Jimmy Vivino, whose musical resume is too long to detail here, and Tash Neal, who many know from the London Souls, is going to come out of the gate charging hard.

The origins of “Grateful” can be traced to the friendship that Pincus — a vocalist, guitarist and songwriter — has with the band Deadstein, which celebrates the music of the Grateful Dead.

Pincus saw his first Grateful Dead show in September 1988 in Landover, Maryland, and he has been a musician for years. But he never combined his passion for the band with his passion for performing because, he said of the Grateful Dead, “They were kind of untouchable in a way, like ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow.'”

But Deadstein drummer Scott Gibson and Pincus are friends, and a few years ago, an invitation to perform with that band generated chemistry.

“I fell in love with the music all over again,” Pincus said.

Rennie Pincus

Pincus played a gig at the Bitter End in Manhattan in February 2020, during which he covered Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir’s solo album, “Ace.” Guitarist Scott Sharrard, formerly of Gregg Allman & Friends, sat in and, Pincus said, the show “was a blast.”

That night inspired Pincus to line up gigs in which he planned to cover other classic albums, like James Taylor’s “Sweet Baby James.” But the pandemic took hold and Pincus was forced to shift gears. He set out to write what he thought could be his own landmark album, but inspiration led him instead to a weekly Monday night livestream, where he raised money for WhyHunger. After performing cover songs during the weekly event, Pincus thought to himself, “what’s next?”

He enlisted members of Deadstein and other musical friends and headed for a Covid-safe recording environment at Carriage House Studios in Connecticut.

“I thought, ‘Let me take all this fun I’ve been having over the last couple of years and see if it will translate, see if people dig it,” he said. “And I think they do.”

The result was “Grateful.”

Musically, Pincus said of the recording, “The timing kind of goes in and out sometimes with certain things, but what that does is, it makes the whole band react as one.”

In addition to “Music Never Stopped” and “Ramble On Rose,” standouts on “Grateful” include a bar-hall-saloon-stomper-version of “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleoo;” and a “Feel Like A Stranger” that hits all the right notes, with an impeccably imperfect flair.

Underscoring the entire project is a question Pincus asked himself before embarking on the undertaking.

“What’s the ultimate comfort food?” he said. “It’s the Grateful Dead.”

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