Some bands become more than the sum of their creative parts. They define a sound that inspires and influences generations of future artists. It’s hard to think of such a band with a stronger cross-genre ripple than the Grateful Dead.
The beginning of August serves as a memorial for fans of the Dead. It marks both the birth and death of the band’s iconic frontman, Jerry Garcia—August 1st and 9th respectively. Sometimes called “Jerry Week,” fans connect with their passion for the beloved artist not just by appreciating the Dead’s rich history, but also through creative expression.
It’s not easy to stand out in a world full of Grateful Dead covers. It takes something sung from the heart to embrace the soul of the song, while giving it a life of its own. With a love for the Dead that stretches back to his childhood, singer-songwriter Glenn Thomas presents us with such a song with his interpretation of “Black Muddy River.”
Growing up, Thomas benefited from being part of a musical family that led him to his connection with the Grateful Dead. “I was listening to The Grateful Dead when I was really young,” Thomas remembers. “American Beauty was among the few CDs I listened to on the bus ride to and from school.” Just like the sound of the Dead evolved over time, Thomas’s appreciation for their works progressed. “As a kid, I loved the songs and the vocal harmonies. As I got older and started playing guitar, their songs shifted into a rich musical landscape that has stayed with me and informed my own music ever since.”
Often known for their ‘psychedelic’ works, many of the Dead’s more sentimental offerings get overlooked in Google searches. These songs would easily be considered among the folk greats but for the Dead’s jam-band label. Fortunately, Thomas is well aware of the band’s depth. “‘Black Muddy River’ is a later song in their catalogue,” he reflects. “[It’s] lyrically a resonant, timeless reflection on life.”
Inspired by his bond with the song and embracing the expressive nature of Dead fans, Thomas is releasing his take on “Black Muddy River.” “The Grateful Dead are such a participatory band in the multitudes of ways their fans share in the music, even after Jerry’s passing. This is my interpretation of what I feel is one of their most beautiful songs,” Thomas shares.
Thomas lets gentle, crisp acoustic guitar carry the melodies while building on the song’s inherent folk qualities with touches of dobro, mandolin, and strings. Full of reverence, it connects to the legacy of the Grateful Dead graced by the personal connection that pours from Thomas’s vocals. With ingrained devotion, Thomas’s “Black Muddy River” feels like it is being sung directly to Jerry Garcia—flowing with veneration from one artist to another.
Glenn Thomas’s take on the Grateful Dead’s “Black Muddy River” will be officially released tomorrow (8/7), but Mother Church Pew readers can check it out now!
Featured Image Credit: Deven Bussey