7 Walkers, Steve Kimock and Yarn @ Beekman Beer Garden, August 1
It’s been almost two years since the eponymous debut album from 7 Walkers arrived, and boy, does it hold up well to repeat listens: a swampy, humid, oddball curio collection of music that, to these ears, is the strongest, deepest studio release by any post-Jerry band featuring a surviving Grateful Dead member.
As a live unit, it’s taken them a little longer to fulfill that promise. Early 7 Walkers shows had the spark Malcolm “Papa Mali” Welbourne and Bill Kreutzmann stumbled on as kindred musical spirits, but little fire, as the band was still feeling itself out, and Welbourne, especially, was finding his way around music that required a different guitar attack than perhaps he was used to. In 2009 and 2010, 7 Walkers shows were fun and rollicking, but also tentative; Welbourne, Kreutzmann, bass ace George Porter Jr. and multi-instrumentalist Matt Hubbard knew they had something that would transcend just a really interesting side project, but the improvisational potential was barely tapped.
What’s appeared to have happened over three years, however, is beautifully organic growth: a band gradually developed, fed and cared for and subtly adjusted, versus something thrust out there to prove a point. The 7 Walkers of 2012 sounds even less like a Dead band and more like the spicy, chunky gumbo of New Orleans swamp-rock, R&B and blues it was intended to be. It’s a band really opening up its originals and playing Dead tunes less out of obligation and more out of feel, with the transitions more spry, the pace more patient and groovy, and the jamming — especially the jamming — more confidently aware.