Donna Jean Godchaux-MacKay, vocals; Jeff Mattson, lead guitar, vocals; Tom Circosta, rhythm guitar, vocals; Dave Diamond, drums, vocals; Klyph Black, bass, vocals; Mookie Siegel, keyboards, vocals; Wendy Lanter, vocals.
Donna Jean Godchaux-MacKay went from the Muscle Shoals Sound harmony singers to the Grateful Dead to start her career, burned out, and pretty much left the stage for nearly 20 years. A couple years back she played a benefit with the Zen Tricksters, a so-called Dead cover band that had much more inside it – and a musical love affair blossomed.
And when they went into the studio, they discovered that they have not only seven vocalists, but seven songwriters – a remarkable range of different sounds and textures, all of it compatible, but often surprising. To quote Bill Ruhlmann (All Music Guide), “The generation-spanning mixture of former Grateful Dead singer Donna Jean Godchaux-MacKay and the Zen Tricksters, one of the earlier Dead-influenced jam bands, turns out to be one of those combinations that is more than the sum of its parts on the self-titled debut album by Donna Jean & the Tricksters. Part of the reason for that is the group's decision to function as a group; this isn't just Godchaux-MacKay fronting the Zen Tricksters as their lead vocalist, it's a new entity in which the singer has really joined the existing band, writing songs with singer/guitarist Jeff Mattson and not always taking lead vocals.”
There’s a great deal of Southern rock/Muscle Shoals funk in most of the cuts, notably the lead single, “All I Gotta Say,” as well as the only track not written by the band, Will McFarlane’s “No Better Way.” (McFarlane’s a Muscle Shoals buddy of Donna Jean’s, and the tune is Absolutely Funky).
There’s world music/African hints in Diamond’s “Weight of the World.” Klyph Black’s “Reno” opens up into a solid jam. It all has soul, and it’s all fun.
And there’s something even better. In the words of www.purplygrotto.com, “What makes the new CD so compelling is not only the quality of the music and the vocals, but also the songs themselves. These songs share a common theme – that despite the troubled times in which we live, love can see us through! This simple message of positivity is, however, not some rehashed flower power from a group of naive wannabes – Donna Jean and the Tricksters have all been around the block a few times, and their experience adds weight and gravitas to this message. This is truly “Cosmic American Music” at its best. You need to get this CD – it will make you dance and give your spirit hope. Donna Jean and the Tricksters is a much-needed antidote to world-weariness!”