January 29, 2008
DIG Music
Pop/Rock, Heartland Rock, Country-Rock, American Trad Rock, Jam Bands

Album Review

The generation-spanning mixture of former Grateful Dead singer Donna Jean Godchaux-MacKay and the Zen Tricksters, one of the earlier Dead-influenced jam bands, turns out to be one of those combinations that is more than the sum of its parts on the self-titled debut album by Donna Jean & the Tricksters. Part of the reason for that is the group's decision to function as a group; this isn't just Godchaux-MacKay fronting the Zen Tricksters as their lead vocalist, it's a new entity in which the singer has really joined the existing band, writing songs with singer/guitarist Jeff Mattson and not always taking lead vocals. Both the songwriting and the vocals have been passed around the band. Sometimes Godchaux-MacKay is in the lead, especially on songs she wrote herself, starting with the leadoff track, "All I Gotta Say," but just as often she is providing harmony or background vocals on songs contributed by other group members like Dave Diamond, Tom Circosta, and Klyph Black. There is also a song co-written by Godchaux-MacKay's late husband and fellow Dead member Keith Godchaux, "Farewell Jack." The Zen Tricksters were always more of a Dead sound-alike outfit than later jam bands, and Godchaux-MacKay must feel at home with a group that often comes very close to the style of the configuration of the Dead in which she participated in the '70s. The band's instrumental jams are especially Dead-like, and that only seems appropriate during, for instance, the Godchaux-MacKay-written "Me and Kettle Joe," a lengthy song that sounds like her account of how she joined the Dead, with the description of "Kettle Joe" closely fitting Jerry Garcia.
William Ruhlmann, Rovi

Track Listing

  1. All I Gotta Say
  2. So Hard
  3. No Better Way
  4. Weight of the World
  5. Shelter
  6. Travelin' Light
  7. He Said/She Said
  8. Moments Away
  9. Farewell Jack
  10. A Prisoner Says His Piece
  11. Me and Kettle Joe
  12. Reno