Friday, November 29, 2013

Band 3: Stage Fright

The Band had two highly appreciated albums under their belt, so it was time for the “difficult third album”. Stage Fright shows the balance of power changing in this democracy, with most of the songs solely credited to “Jaime Robbie Robertson”, despite the ensemble work that went into each. Robbie says today that the album was intended to get away from the mythology set forth by the first two, but he’s never been one to let the truth get in the way of good reissue liner note copy.
“Strawberry Wine” features Levon at his most nasal, while Garth wanders around his accordion-sounding keyboard, which he’ll do for the better part of the album. But Richard comes in to sing “Sleeping”, sweet as ever. It’s an excellent Band performance, and surprising that it’s not as well known. “Time To Kill” and “Just Another Whistle Stop” are more raucous, giving Robbie plenty of room to shred in his own way, and particularly that pinched tone. “All La Glory” slows it down again, presenting Levon sounding more than ever like Richard and Rick.
Things get more familiar on the second side, where the hits resided. “The Shape I’m In” is more along the lines of the second album, with a funky clavinet and shaggy dog lyrics to match. Similarly, “The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show” evokes Levon’s memories of the music he heard passing through town as a kid, which led him to stage his own “Midnight Ramble” in the later years of his life. “Daniel And The Sacred Harp” is a forced re-framing of the ancient parable about someone who sells his soul for music, about as subtle as a sledgehammer. The swapped vocals don’t really help, but the instrumentation should please anyone still hung up on the second album. The title track is still the best song on the album, from the jumpy piano and sympathetic bass to the shaky vocal from Rick. “The Rumor” has just enough mystery to make it special, but that only underscores what’s been missing.
It’s not just the lack of rustic mystery that keeps Stage Fright from being overly successful; maybe it doesn’t seem to have as much of that five-guys-playing-in-a-room vibe. (Which is odd, since legend has it the album was recorded in a theater setting. Perhaps the dueling mixes by Todd Rundgren and Glyn Johns are to blame. The upgraded CD would have been a great place to include both, but only offers a few alternates and a radio commercial.) But they’d keep at it, and come around again soon enough.

The Band Stage Fright (1970)—3
2000 CD reissue: same as 1970, plus 4 extra tracks

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