From Misfit Power to Elder Statesman, Bob Weir’s life (and the aforementioned transformation) has been spent onstage. For the one person in history who has been either onstage and/or recorded more than any other person (prove me wrong), he has spent relatively little time in the studio. Blue Mountain, Weir’s first solo release in over 38 years, is a welcomed treat for Weir fans and the general public alike. The album is not country, but Cowboy Music, and these songs are perfectly suited to Weir’s voice and vocal delivery. He’d had a smattering of live new songs over the years but this collection is such a great trove.
Themed as a Cowboy Album, Weir returns to his teenage years when he split California to Wyoming to become a cowpoke. He was a young guitarist and the older guys would utilize his strumming as they sang their tales. Having fully embraced the “cowboy tunes” in The Grateful Dead, a band whose affection for and contribution to the great Western oeuvre is most generous, Weir has now finally released not only a great album but a project at which he has been hinting for years.
Strikingly, Weir only plays acoustic guitar on Blue Mountain and only “cowboy chords” at that; no patented off-the-wall licks here. For someone who has played guitar for others more than most, his simple acoustic approach is as deft and appropriate as his acclaimed electric work. Backed by members of The National, Ratdog and others including guitar ace Steve Kimock, Blue Mountain is a wonderful collection of all original compositions and stories, none of which had been played live prior to this release. Among the songs that are just solo Weir, “Ki-Yi Bossie” stands out. Yes it mentions the 12-step program, a program with which Weir may have some familiarity, but it is his lack of embrace that stands out. “I know I deserve to be there but I don’t remember why/ I was looking for salvation but nothing caught my eye/ My turn to tell my story and I guess it’s worth a try.”
Among the band tunes, “Gonesville” is a standout track evoking a train with its rolling rhythm. The background vocals and hotshot solo twang make the song. When Blue Mountain approaches rock ‘n’ roll, the juxtaposition to the acoustic numbers helps the album succeed. “Ghost Towns” is another tight group effort with a windy, breathy, ethereal choir and more tasteful electric guitar. “Lay My Lily Down” seems to be about burying a child and “One More River to Cross” eludes to Weir’s own passing: “I tried to do be good for most of my life/ Never do wrong when I knew what is right/ So when I cross over my heart will be light/ One more river to cross.”
The characters found on Blue Mountain inhabit those who may have been at the campfire 55 years ago. The title cut alludes to being “born in a manger in Texas” surrounded by horses and piñon. Crossing the Rio Grande, ghost towns and gold spikes at trailheads color Weir’s masterful vocal selections and chordal arrangements. After having espoused Western Music for so long, Weir has now matriculated into the ranks of Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard. One day he will have “One More River to Cross” but for now Bob Weir is simply moving on.