As mentioned, the Grateful Dead have a new 8-album, 14-disc vinyl box set out now via Vinyl Me, Please's Anthology series that includes essays by Jim James of My Morning Jacket, Avery Tare of Animal Collective, Dave Longstreth of Dirty Projectors, Margo Price, MC Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger, Scott Devendorf of The National, John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats, Jenny Conlee of The Decemberists, and Hunter Brown of STS9. If you'd like to read a few of those essays before purchasing the box set, you're in luck.

UPDATE (5/22): You can read John Darnielle's essay (and hear the audiobook version) HERE.

Jim James' essay on American Beauty is out via Rolling Stone, and here's an excerpt:

American Beauty. This was, for me, the grand gateway arch into the wide, weird world of the Grateful Dead. In high school, when I first heard of the Dead, it was always in seemingly negative surroundings — I didn’t fit in with the punk rockers, I didn’t fit in with the jocks, and I never quite fit in with or felt welcome by the “hippie” kids at school — and of course, all they ever listened to or talked about was the Grateful Dead. Whenever I would hear the Dead in passing, it never really hit me.

[Then, years later...] I popped American Beauty into my CD walkman and pressed play: “Look out of any window / any morning any evening any day…” something about it, for the first time, started to hit me. The possibility of it all…I’ve always been into a wide variety of music, but there was just something about this music I had never felt before.

I listened to the album two or three times that night just taking it in, living in its world, and loving it, trying to understand what this feeling was. It wasn’t happy, nor was it sad. Yet, it reflected the presence and possibility of every emotion in the rainbow, and the recording was unbelievable. The talent and musicianship were undeniable. The lyrics melted my mind.

Read Jim James' full essay here. Dave Longstreth's essay on Workingman's Dead is also out via Relix, and here's an excerpt of that one:

My parents’ old, tattered copy of Workingman’s Dead was in constant rotation in our household when I was a kid: music for washing dishes and petting the dogs. It was a long time before I became aware of the album’s status as a sort of Boomer cultural bible: a back-to-the-land grail. In what might’ve been the last radical act of their radical ‘60s selves, my parents moved in 1973 from the Bay Area — where they saw the Dead at the Fillmore a half dozen times — to rural Upstate New York, to start a small farm. Personal particularities aside, they were, in a way, following the Workingman’s Dead manual.

[...] Workingman’s Dead is a great album for a lot of reasons. From the purple mountains’ majesty of inventive steel guitar and pedal steel (“High Time,” “Dire Wolf”) to the fruited plains of goofy choogles (“New Speedway Boogie,” “Easy Wind”) and the nimble flatpicking and banjo (“Cumberland Blues”), this album is a nation of guitar. Also, I just love the sound of Jerry’s guitar through the Leslie rotating cabinet on “Casey Jones” and “High Time.”

Read Dave Longstreth's full essay here.

Don't forget that Workingman's Dead is also getting a 50th anniversary reissue that comes with a previously unreleased recording of their February 21, 1971 concert at Port Chester, NY's Capitol Theater. You can stream the recently-released, newly-remastered "Casey Jones" from that Cap show below.

In other Dead news, Weir Wednesdays continues tonight (5/20) at 8 PM ET nugs.tv (with a 2012 show featuring members of The National, The Walkmen, and Bonny Light Horseman), Shakedown Stream continues Friday (5/22), and over 14,500 Grateful Dead live concert recordings (and counting) are available to stream for free online.