Aoxomoxoa was the band's third album, the eagerly awaited follow-up to Anthem Of The Sun, originally released in June 1969, but remixed and re-released in July 1971, and it is this remix that has been used for subsequent CD re-issues.
Whereas Anthem synthesized the bands live and studio halves into a glorious whole, Aoxomoxoa is a purely studio affair, more song based, and although some lengthier pieces were considered and rehearsed in the studio for the album, they were not used as they were considered more suitable for a live setting. The Eleven, for example, was instead recorded live for their fourth album, the legendary Live Dead, which was being recorded at live concerts during the same period. To quote Jerry Garcia from a Deadheads' newsletter, "If you take Live Dead and Aoxomoxoa together, you have a picture of what we were doing then. We were playing Live Dead and we were recording Aoxomoxoa." The studio and live sides of the band had been awarded their own platforms.
Earlier recordings for the album were also junked when the studio acquired an early 16-track Ampex. This was instantly taken up by the band with enthusiasm and is responsible for the album's remarkable clarity, though one of the reason for Jerry Garcia's 1971 remix was that he found the original results muddy and cluttered. He also removed some multi-tracks, harmonies, phase-shifting and stereo effects, which means that whatever our personal preferences we are listening to this album though Garcia's 1971 revisionist ears, not to the band's original 1969 statement. Whilst I wouldn't deny anyone the right to hear the remix, I would also like to hear the record as it sounded in 1969, and since this has been newly remastered in HDCD it seems a missed opportunity not to have gone back to the original mix, as was the case with Anthem Of The Sun, and brought it up to quality, whilst still retaining the stereo panning and other effects from 1969.
The songwriting axes had also changed since the previous album, to which all band members had contributed. The band had met up with writer and lyricist Robert Hunter, and having already collaborated with Garcia on Dark Star, and with Phil Lesh and Pigpen on Anthem Of The Sun's Alligator, had since become the band's lyricist in residence, mostly working with Jerry Garcia. The pair of them composed the entire album (with some musical contribution from Phil Lesh).
The songs have proved themselves of enduring quality, with favourites such as St Stephen (which also appears on Live Dead), China Cat Sunflower and occasionally Cosmic Charlie featuring in the band's live repertoire. Others were precluded from live performance due to the adventurous instrumentation and structure of the studio creations. The lyrics and arrangements are of a maturity that shows that there was far more to the band than mere acid-prankstering and partying, and the band had cohered musically as a unit, with the line-up as before but with Tom Constanten now recruited fully into the band. Only the "difficult" eight-minute chant What's Become Of The Baby breaks up the flow of the record as Americana sing-a-longs like Doin' That Rag complement blues tunes like Dupree's Diamond Blues, the single from the album (Cosmic Charlie being the B-side).
The playing time of this remastered edition has been more than doubled with the addition of four bonus tracks. These consist of three superb extended studio jams from August 1968, including The Eleven Jam, showing some of the original intentions of the album before a complementary live album was envisioned, and a live version of Cosmic Charlie from the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco for the Live Dead tapes on 25 January 1969 (incidentally the same day that the Beatles recorded Let It Be at Apple Studios).
This was to be the band's last overtly psychedelic studio album, since the band went through the most organically brilliant reinvention of musical history with 1970's Workingman's Dead.