It’s been 38 years since Heaven Help the Fool Grateful Dead guitarist/vocalist Weir’s last solo studio album and although his regular band are certainly worthy of being considered roots music pioneers, Blue Mountain is probably the closest any member has come to recording anything resembling country music since their classic 70’s albums American Beauty and Working Man’s Dead…well  OK, apart from Phil Lesh’s Pride of Cucamonga and Garcia/David Grisman’s Old and in the Way and bluegrass ventures. Weir was invited to collaborate with songwriter Josh Ritter and an ensemble of musicians put together by producer Josh Kaufman. The intention was to celebrate his country leanings in what is best described as an album of cowboy songs, harking back to the pioneering days of the old west. Unlike the Dead’s often complex musical interplay and extended improvisation, the setting here is less adorned and relies more on Daniel Lanois style ethereal atmospheres, creating an album of reverb drenched sonic landscapes for Weir’s authoritative gruff vocalising to best communicate Ritter’s impressionistic lyrical narratives. The result is a surprisingly fine collection of tunes conjuring up the big sky country of trailblazers Lewis and Clark while avoiding both the Ian Tyson/Michael Martin Murphy stylised cowboy song approach and Marty Robbins spaghetti western ambience to create a timeless collection of folk /country ruminations. Kim Cheshire