Ron Raymond reviews Merl Saunders’ “Blues From The Rainforest: A Musical Suite”

Merl Saunders
Blues From The Rainforest: A Musical Suite
Grateful Dead Records, 1990
By Ron Raymond
WMPG Music Director

The recent passing in October 2008 of legendary musician and frequent Grateful Dead collaborator, Merl Saunders, at the age of 74, reminded me of an album he did in 1990 titled Blues From The Rainforest. This was the album he was promoting when I actually got to meet him that same year. And, it’s one of the most beautiful and relaxing albums I’ve ever heard. While this album could be construed as New Age-ish, it’s more of a World album. The album’s six songs clock in at just over an hour, beginning with the 15 and a half-minute title track. The late Jerry Garcia lent his guitar talents to four tracks on the album (5 years before his passing), and you can certainly tell when he pops in. Merl takes you all over the globe on this one, from “Sunrise Over Haleakala” to “Sri Lanka” to “Blue Hill Ocean Dance” (I like to think it was for Blue Hill, Maine, but I don’t believe it was). My favorite song on the album happens to be the shortest song on the set, “Dance Of The Fireflies,” a lovely track which features additional help from Muruga (of the Global Jazz Trio) and Eddie Moore.

This album is probably not the best representation of Merl Saunders, whose instrument of choice was the Hammond B-3 organ, but it’s a terrific album worth revisiting, and an album whose creator is worth remembering.

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