SAN RAFAEL, Ca. — Like a three-course meal with each set of flavors complementing each other to perfection, Jackie Greene, Eric Krasno and Ross James served up a sumptuous banquet of sounds Saturday night that tickled the musical taste buds, hitting different parts of the palate from smoky blues to outlaw country to classic folk.
Performing in the rustic and intimate main concert room — which holds about 400 but felt even smaller — at Terrapin Crossroads, the venue and restaurant operated by Grateful Dead legend Phil Lesh, the seated trio bounced songs back and forth between each other, soloing and harmonizing on each other’s tunes like three old buddies hanging out and strumming just for kicks.
While the musicians’ common connection is their collaborations with Lesh, each shined as distinct individuals with unique deliveries and storytelling voices. Even the handful of obligatory Dead covers, lapped up by the crowd in the heart of Dead country’s Marin County, flowed from the trio’s own music and sensibilities rather than a sense of simple tribute.
Seated in the middle, with Greene to his right and James to his left, Krasno opened with “Please Ya,” from his latest album, 2016’s “Blood From A Stone.” It was a deep and syrupy blues, complete with Krasno’s silky electric riffs (the other two players stuck with acoustic guitars all night, with Greene playing some keyboard). Later on, Krasno’s “Jezebel” and “Unconditional Love,” the latter of which he enthusiastically solicited clapping and singing participation from the crowd, were also high points of the evening.
Krasno, known for his work in chops-heavy, jazz-funk bands Lettuce and Soulive, showed Saturday that he’s also a singer-songwriter to be reckoned with. The deep production values on “Blood From A Stone,” which serve the album well, were stripped away, giving the songs an unvarnished feel for a direct impact on the rapt crowd.
Besides the popular covers, Greene’s originals were the most familiar to the Terrapin Crossroads full house. The jangly and upbeat “Gone Wanderin,’” dating all the way back to his 2002 rookie album, was warm and free, with Dylan-esque harmonica; his crystal-clear voice rang out over the dark blues of “I Don’t Live In A Dream”; and the arresting “Shaken,” with its addictive chorus, and like “Dream,” pulled from his home-run 2008 record, “Giving Up The Ghost,” was irresistible.
James, a more recent addition to the Terrapin family as a regular collaborator with Lesh and the various artists that play in the Grate Room (where Saturday’s show was held) and the barroom, is the least established of the trio but was a revelation to anyone not familiar with his prowess. With his wild, long hair and beard, tattoos and GG Allin T-shirt, James provided a shot of outlaw country rebelliousness to the set, a mix of Bakersfield cowboy swing with deep-South grit. His fragile, raspy, world-weary voice makes you listen harder to songs like “Juarez,” from his 2018 debut album, “Freak Farm.”
The trio’s covers were fun and poignant. James made Hayes Carll’s wry “Bad Liver and a Broken Heart” sound like his own, and he and his compadres turned the rocking Dead classic “Bertha” into a slow-crawling country blues. The Dead’s “Sugaree,” coming out of and segueing back into a Krasno tune, was an early-show singalong, and the iconic Bay Area band’s “Brown Eyed Women” was faithful to the original, with Greene accidentally stealing a verse from James and joking about it. A pair of Tom Petty covers — James’ delicately delivered “Angel Dream” and the slinky “Breakdown,” which Greene teased out of his own “Broken” via the classic organ riff — were particularly pleasing and provided a worthy nod to the departed star.