Dark Star Orchestra
Donna Jean & the Tricksters
Donna Jean and the
Donna Jean and the Tricksters
to our website about
Donna Jean and the Tricksters
Donna Jean and
the Tricksters new CD -1/29/08 - Review
Donna Jean with the GD and JGB
Zen Tricksters discography
Release (background of Donna Jean and the Tricksters)
Jean Thatcher (Godchaux MacKay) was born to sing, and over the
course of time she’s done so with people like Elvis Presley, Percy
Sledge, Boz Scaggs, and Jerry Garcia.
Now she has a new band that she’s quite certain is on a
creative par with anything she’s ever done.
“This band is a perfect fit for me as a
singer/songwriter,” she said recently, “and I hope to be doing
this for a long time to come.
We’re having so much fun with this music!”
Grateful Dead alumna has joined up with six members of the next
musical generation – Mookie Siegel (David Nelson Band; formerly
Phil & Friends, RatDog), Wendy Lanter (Hope in Time), and Jeff
Mattson, Tom Circosta, Klyph Black and Dave Diamond (Zen Tricksters)
to form Donna Jean and the
Look out! Things have come full circle and anything’s possible. Oh, sure, they’re gonna jam.
But the band has seven vocalists and an incredible array of
songwriting talent, and DJ&tT is going to make waves in ways
you’d never anticipate.
in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, Donna Jean was a vocalist at both Muscle
Shoals Sound Studios and Fame Studios, home of the legendary
“Muscle Shoals Sound,” on records like Elvis Presley’s
“Suspicious Minds,” Percy Sledge’s “When A Man Loves a
Woman,” and Boz Scagg’s eponymous first solo album.
She moved to San Francisco, married Keith Godchaux, and spent
the 1970s as a vocalist in the Grateful Dead as well as the Jerry
After life with the Dead, she and Keith created the Heart of
Gold Band with drummer Greg Anton.
Following various side trips, she resumed serious focus on
her singing in the ‘90s, recording a new Heart of Gold Band album,
At the Table, and singing
with Phil & Friends and her own Donna Jean Band.
But it was at a benefit concert for the Dead’s Rex
Foundation in 2006, The Black
Tie-Dye Ball, that she bonded with the Tricksters and decided
that she’d found her future.
Zen Tricksters began on Long Island in the early 1980s.
Lead by guitar wizard Jeff Mattson, the ZT have played for
more than 20 years, establishing records at the legendary Wetlands
Preserve and taking part in every Gathering of the Vibes. With Klyph Black on funky, blues-based bass and vocals (and
slide and dobro), Tom Circosta on rhythm guitar and vocals, and Dave
Diamond on drums, percussion, and vocals, the ZT rapidly became
known as the best Dead-oriented band around – and a great deal
After a substantial career doing session work, Wendy Lanter
joined with Tom Circosta to create the band Hope in Time as a
platform for their original music.
She is a fabulous vocalist, adding angelic harmonies to Donna
Finally, Mookie Siegel (keyboards and vocals) emerged from
Baltimore in the ‘80s to become a member of such bands as the
David Nelson (New Riders of the Purple Sage) Band, Bob Weir’s
RatDog, and Phil Lesh & Friends.
this band – a felicitous combination of experience and youth, with
skills that cross all musical genres and defy category – is a
great deal more than even the sum of its parts.
Something happened when they met – and DJ&tT is now
(3/07) going into the studio to show you what that was.
Jean and the Tricksters
(aka, Kettle Joe's Psychedelic Swamp Revue)
Jean and the Tricksters
Label - Dig
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
Donna Jean Godchaux-MacKay - vocals
Wendy Lanter - vocals
Jeff Mattson - lead guitar, vocals
Tom Circosta - rhythm guitar, vocals
Klyph Black - bass, vocals
Dave Diamond - drums, vocals
Mookie Siegel - keyboards, vocals
Jason Crosby - Violin *
Dave Eggar - Cello +
Randi Mattson - Handclaps #
|Donna Jean and the
Donna Jean and the Tricksters is a band composed
of the revamped Zen Tricksters (ZT) with the addition of Donna Jean Godchaux-MacKay.
Donna Jean is best known for her work with the Grateful Dead.
Though, prior to that, she did session work at Muscle Shoals
Sound and appeared on notable recordings including Elvis Presley's
"Suspicious Minds," and Percy Sledge's "When a Man
Loves a Woman." Reading an
interview with Donna, she discusses that aspect of her career and notes
the awesome session players that she was involved with, bringing
back thoughts of Aretha Franklin's
The Zen Tricksters have released three
albums. After hearing the debut, Donna Jean and the Tricksters and
enjoying it, I thought a listen to the Zen Tricksters was warranted.
Since I don't have any of their albums I sought out a few live
performances. Their performances include a wide variety of awesome covers
interspersed with original material. The ZT have a strong Grateful
Dead background and do include both Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia Band covers in their live performances.
Quite well, I might add. However, there are no bands, zero,
none, that play Grateful Dead music as good as, you guessed
it, the Grateful Dead.
The February 2007 Donna Jean and the
release has additional historic background on Donna Jean and the
In a few ways Donna Jean and the Tricksters remind me of
The Band. Not because of their songwriting
or sound. Rather, because both bands have a numbers of composers as well as many
good vocalists; in fact, all seven Tricksters sing. Most bands have a more
basic formula by sporting one lead vocalist, maybe two and the same
for songwriters. The Beatles generally had two songwriters, Lennon and
McCartney, with an
occasional Harrison track, The Rolling Stones credit Jagger and
Richards composing most tracks, with one main singer, The Grateful Dead usually switch between
Garcia and Weir with an occasional song by Phil or a keyboardist.
The result of Donna Jean and the Tricksters diversity is that it takes a few
listens to be familiar with them. It is worth doing! There is
immense talent and all the members all have a lot to offer. Further,
the album sounds better upon each listen.
Speaking of The Band, in my research I came across a
gorgeous cover of the ZT on 12/31/2002, performing The
Band's "W.S. Walcott Medicine Show." Wonderful! There was
a tribute album to The Band called Endless
Highway. The producers of that release should have enlisted the Zen Tricksters for
it, as they would
have ranked high among the great sounds on that disc. Truly. I have
that release and can't
think of better cover included on it.
For a band that includes Grateful Dead covers and
even includes a former member you'd expect them to mimic them. Smartly,
they steer away from that on their debut album. No matter how talented, a band can only go so far copying them.
Enough of the background, how is the music?
There are a variety of different styles when all stirred up yields a
freshness, a bite, and even a bit funk to it. A few songs have the
potential for some radio play. Notably, "All I Gotta Say,"
is a pop song,
strong vocals, and a biting, stinging guitar. Topping it is "No Better Way";
with its catchy rhythm, upbeat
and fast. The quick-fingered guitar solos brings early Steely Dan to
Sandwiched between those two tracks is a drummer Dave Diamond's
song, "So Hard." his voice sounds a bit like Bruce Hornsby. Mookie Siegel takes the first solo.
The second instrumental allows several members to be heard as they
take turns, some nice sounds indeed.
A few guests appear on the disc. I like the violin
and Jason Crosby sits in on two numbers sharing his talents. "He Said
/ She Said"
is a solid song. The other one, "A Prisoner Says His
Piece," sounds a little corny with the vocals. Though, I
like the country/southern feel. They can play some strong
country licks indeed, a little James
"Travelin' Light" has a nice beat, feel, hook,
and melody. It features several vocalists. A fairly long track, over seven
minutes. This guitar solo does have hints of a Garcia influence with
both the tone and phrasing at times,
sort of a "Tennessee Jed" bounce, but it maintains Mattson's feel at the
same time, then closing with some more Steely Dan type licks.
"Travelin' Light" is of
the better songs.
The track "Weight of the World" is
interesting. The groove is successful. It has a
bit of funk to it in a progressive sense, King Crimson like during
the early 1980's Adrian Belew days.
A key track is the thirteen plus minute "Me and Kettle Joe."
It begins as
an upbeat song and then ventures off to a lengthy, healthy jam, with
a nice landing. Another key track I suppose is "Shelter" as it was part of the promotional sampler disc.
It sounds like it could fit on a Jefferson Airplane album, but it is
no "Good Shepherd."
Throughout the disc, Mookie Siegel offers superb
solos and fills and really is instrumental to the great sounds
throughout the album. A few examples include his work on Circosta's
"Moments Away." Complimenting him, the guitar solos are
quite good too, taking a nasty tone. Mookie takes the lead vocal on the final
track on "Reno" in a straight forward rock 'n roll number
in the style of Chuck Berry.
Any album that has originality and at the same
time brings memories
of those influences as diverse as those noted in the review is more
than worthwhile. To recap them, they include: The Band, Aretha
Franklin, Emmylou Harris, James Burton, Jerry Garcia, the Grateful
Dead, Steely Dan, Jefferson Airplane, King Crimson, and Chuck Berry.
Interesting, all of these artists are very different in sound, with the
common denominator being excellence, top shelf material.
If Donna Jean and the Tricksters can continue to
write strong material they should have even greater success going
forward. A great start with their debut, an easy album to recommend.
by Barry Small©
|Amazon Product Description
Donna Jean and the Tricksters, a band legendary for it’s Grateful
Dead covers, unites a host of Dead alumni on their new release.
Donna Jean Godchaux-MacKay, member of the Grateful Dead (1971-1979)
and nationally acclaimed back-up vocalist at Muscle Shoals Studios
(Percy Sledge, Elvis Presley, R.B. Greaves, Boz Scaggs,) fronts a
roots-rockin’ band that features seven-part harmonies and
top-shelf musicianship. The band’s incendiary live shows are
generating rave reviews and continue to build their rabid fan base
while reaching out to a whole new, younger demographic. The new
album also features beautiful packaging and design by famed poster
artist, Gary Houston.
Jean with the GD and JGB
We have reviews of almost all
of the Grateful Dead and Jerry
Garcia Band releases in their respective sections of my
Donna Jean with the Grateful Dead
- '72 - Favorite release - Dick's
Pick's Vol. 36
Live 1973 -
'74 - Favorite release - Dick's
Picks Vol. 12
Live 1975 -
'79 - Favorite release - Dick's
Pick's Vol. 3
Absolutely essential Grateful Dead DVD's with Donna Godchaux - Both The
Grateful Dead Movie from 1974 and The
Closing of Winterland from 1978
Jerry Garcia Band
As of this writing, Donna Jean has been on three live
Jerry Garcia Band releases. In the studio she was on two
Under the Stars, where the latter was a better display of
Donna and Keith's contribution from when they were in Jerry Garcia's
side band between 1976 and 1978.
Favorite release: Don't
Star Orchestra - Donna Jean sat in with Dark
Star Orchestra for parts of their recreation of the May 5, 1977,
performance that was captured on their DVD. Order
|The Holy Fool
Label: Zebra Tango
1. Victim of Circumstance
3. Done is Done
5. Body Parts (The Anatomy of a Breakup)
6. Shine Your Light
7. Mother Found a Gun
9. Not Quite Enough
10. Blinding Light
11. Lay Your Love
|From the ZT website
This 1996 CD was the first release for the ZTs and features such concert staples as the
Afro-Calypso romp of Arise, the psychobilly
rave-up of Done is Done, the gentle beauty of "Shine Your Light," the swamp
rock of "Hoodoo," and a monster 10+ minute version of
"Lay Your Love" that gets way out there! Check it out!!
|A Love Surreal
|Label: The Zen Tricksters
2. Warm Heart
3. Where You Want to Be
4. Who Are You
5. Goin' Down Slow
6. That's All
7. Down the Road
9. Call of the Wild
10. Say That I Am
From the ZT website
When Phil Lesh heard this 1999 second release from the
Tricksters, he was so impressed with their ability to jam in the studio
(something he claimed the Dead were incapable of doing to his satisfaction) he immediately flew
guitarist Jeff Mattson and keyboardist Rob Barraco to San Francisco to be part of Phil & Friends
(Warfield Theatre 10/7/99-10/9/99). A LOVE SURREAL contains the favorites
"Warm Heart," "Down the Road," "Say That I Am," and a very psychedelic
"Goin' Down Slow" that features the pedal steel work of David Nelson Band's Barry
Off The Weirdness
|Label: Zebra Tango
Released Late Dec. 2002 or Jan. 2003
1. Talk of the Town
2. Light of Life
3. All Night Long Blues
4. Waiting For a Sign
6. Last Ten Years
7. The One
8. No One Said It'd Be Easy
9. High Horse
10. The Dean Street Mess Around
From the ZT website
Ten new original tunes by Jeff, Klyph, and Tom. Special guests on the CD
are Rob Barraco (The Other Ones, Phil Lesh & Friends,
former ZT), Buddy Cage (New Riders), Jason Crosby (Oteil & the Peacemakers, Susan Tedeschi, former
ZT), Tom "Badbelly" Hanway, Lil' Cliff Bernard, Wendy
Lanter, and Christian Cassan. Featuring songs you have heard live, such as
"Talk of the Town" and "Light of Life" and brand new ones too! A surprising and eclectic acoustic