Capturing the whole story of the Grateful Dead's most creative period in one package might seem a nearly impossible task, but this remarkable 12-CD collection comes pretty darn close. Using the band's seminal Warner Bros. studio albums as a foundation, The Golden Road builds out and up, appending more than seven hours of previously unreleased studio material that connects the dots of the creative process and illuminates the band's earliest days in fascinating detail. The latter effort comes to fruition on a two-disc foray dubbed "Birth of the Dead," which collects recordings made under the names the Warlocks and the Emergency Crew. Those tracks display both a disarming gentleness (in evidence on a cover of Gordon Lightfoot's "Early Morning Rain") and the nascence of that fierce improvisation (in full effect on two versions of "Pigpen" McKernan's "Tastebud"). By the time they'd recorded their self-titled debut, the Grateful Dead had developed a dual reputation as stylists and jammers, and both skills are driven home on the bonus tracks appended to the remastered disc contained here -- included are a topsy-turvy version of the pre-WWII dance hit "The Lindy Hop" as well as a 23-minute spiral into "Viola Lee Blues." Each of the discs -- which are packaged separately, with individual 16-page booklets containing new essays by such noted Dead associates as Owsley "Bear" Stanley, David Gans, and Blair Jackson -- is outfitted with several bonuses. The additional tracks on Anthem of the Sun emphasize the live side of the band, via extended versions of "Alligator" and "Caution (Do Not Stop on Tracks)," both of which date to an 8/23/68 Los Angeles date. Those on Aoxomoxoa zero in on the band's in-studio improvisations, unspooling 15 jaw-dropping minutes of "The Eleven" and a bubbling 10-minute "Nobody's Spoonful Jam." And while epic jams are a big part of the band's appeal, scattered gems like the rare single edits of "Dark Star" and "Truckin' " reveal that size isn't the only thing that matters in the Dead catalogue. Workingman's Dead, revamped with live versions of several songs from the original release, boasts a surprisingly dark alternate version of "New Speedway Boogie," while the expanded American Beauty adds several live tracks that gently amplify the disc's rustic acoustic nature. The set winds up with extended versions of their two early-'70s live albums. Live/Dead appends sinewy versions of "I'm a Hog for You Baby" (their last-ever performance of the song) and "Oh Boy" (the first and only electric performance of the tune), while Europe '72 adds a six-pack of bonus tracks, including a searing "Who Do You Love?" Extravagantly packaged and immaculately annotated (the custom box includes an 80-page booklet featuring a band history from longtime Dead spokesman Dennis McNally, rare photos, reproductions of memorabilia, and a detailed group discography), this fascinating set is sure to sate -- and create -- Deadheads for many a moon to come.