By John Metzger, of The Music Box-Online
In 1990, Merl Saunders reintroduced himself to legions of Deadheads with the release of a stunningly beautiful new age album titled Blues from the Rainforest. Though Saunders' career now spans more than thirty years, this album remains his true masterpiece. It helped, of course, that Saunders once again collaborated with Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia on four of the album's six tracks, and together, they tapped into the deep-rooted spiritual connection among mankind, music, and nature.
Sad to say, Blues from the Rainforest has been out of print and difficult to find for quite some time, though it remains available through Saunders' own web site. Nevertheless, it deserves wider distribution. From the haunted beauty of the title track, to the radiant strains of "Sunrise over Haleakala" to the playful "Dance of the Fireflies" -- the album remains as emotionally moving today as it was upon its initial release.
Fortunately, Whirlwind Media has had the wisdom to re-release Blues from the Rainforest -- albeit in DVD format. The package includes the entire album on a special audio track, and this is the real reason to pick up the DVD. The rest of the material is enjoyable, but non-essential.
Of this, there is a 25-minute television program taken from a promotional appearance by Saunders on San Francisco After Dark. It's the usual interview interspersed with concert footage that gives a general overview into the making of the album. Faring better, is the 24-minute documentary titled Rediscovering the Amazon, which highlights Saunders' visit to South America a few years following the release of his album. This is actually quite an interesting tale that highlights the biodiversity of the area, the cultures of the Amazon's people, and some of the problems the rainforest is facing.
The complete version of this story appears in the November 2000 issue of The Music Box.