As the '60s drew to a close, it was a heavy time for the quickly crumbling hippie movement that had reached its apex just a few years earlier in 1967’s Summer of Love. Death and violence were pervasive in the form of the Manson murders, fatalities at the Altamont concert, and the ongoing loss of young lives in Vietnam despite the best efforts of anti-war activists and peace-seeking protesters. Difficult times were also upon the Grateful Dead, unofficial house band of San Francisco’s Summer of Love festivities and outspoken advocates of psychedelic experimentation both musical and chemical. The excessive studio experimentation that resulted in their trippy but disorienting third album,Aoxomoxoa, had left the band in considerable debt to their record label, and their stress wasn't helped at all by a drug bust that had members of the band facing jail time. The rough road the Deadwere traveling down seemed congruent with the hard changes faced by the youth counterculture that birthed them. Fourth studio album Workingman's Dead reflects both the looming darkness of its time, and the endless hope and openness to possibility that would become emblematic of the Dead as their legacy grew. For a group already established as exploratory free-form rockers of the highest acclaim,Workingman’s Dead's eight tunes threw off almost all improvisatory tendencies in favor of spare, thoughtful looks at folk, country, and American roots music with more subdued sounds than the band had managed up until then. The songs also focused more than ever before on singing and vocal harmonies, influenced in no small way by a growing friendship with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. The band embraced complex vocal arrangements with campfire-suited folk on "Uncle John's Band" and the psychedelic cowboy blues of “High Time.” AMG.
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