Everyone who thinks Jerry Garcia wrote “Don’t Ease Me In” raise your hand. Whatever else may be said of the group, the Grateful Dead made more cover songs its own than any other band of the rock era. The original versions of 17 such songs are collected on The Music Never Stopped: Roots of the Grateful Dead, an eclectic assortment of music from many genres that has the inexplicable cohesiveness of a good mix tape. As an added bonus, the disc’s exhaustive liner notes—by Blair Jackson, publisher of the Dead fanzine The Golden Road—provide an introduction to Deadhead-scale fandom for noninitiates. Jackson details not only the origin of each song, but when and where the band played it over the years, exactly where it fell in the Dead’s set, and which concert performance of the song he finds superlative. It’s fitting that the disc’s R. Crumb cover depicts the featured artists packed onto the same stage: On Roots, seldom-heard blues gems (Charlie Patton’s “Spoonful”) share the bill with cornball Top 40 fare (Marty Robbins’ “El Paso”), folkie laments (Bonnie Dobson’s “Morning Dew”), and vintage rock ’n’ roll (Chuck Berry’s “The Promised Land”). Considering that a goodly proportion of these disparate songs are hard-luck stories, it’s not surprising that the blues is the collection’s best-represented genre. Roots’ R&B runs the gamut from the Rev. Gary Davis’ scriptural “Samson & Delilah” to Howlin’ Wolf’s smutty “The Red Rooster” (“Yow!” comments Jackson). Dead-hater or not, it’s hard to dispute the band members’ standing as students of American musical traditions. CP

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