Monday, August 26, 2013

Band 2: The Band

Their first album was dominated by the specter of their old boss Bob Dylan, but if they were going to get anywhere, they had to be their own men. So for their second album, they were simply and emphatically The Band. All the sounds and songs (more on that later) came from their own mouths and fingers. Once again the focus is on Americana, or an image what it was supposed to be at one time.
Richard Manuel wrote many of the songs on the debut, but here the most consistent name is that of Robbie Robertson. We’ll likely never know if Robbie’s adoption of the songwriting was genuine or underhanded, but there’s no question that the voice of The Band was a combination, with Richard’s plaintive tones countered by Levon Helm’s redneck yowl. These are nicely balanced on side one, with the near-majestic “Across The Great Divide” giving way to the ribaldry of “Rag Mama Rag”. Everybody knows “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” by now, its sad salute leading into the hope of “When You Awake”. “Up On Cripple Creek”, with its bouncy wah-wah clavinet returns the fun, but Richard’s stirring lead on “Whispering Pines” puts him back in charge.
Side two is a little more unpredictable, with even more obscure lyrics and complicated melodies. “Jemima Surrender” follows a dirty riff through a good groove before “Rockin’ Chair” takes us to the seaside. So when they all let loose on “Look Out Cleveland”, it’s a great reminder that these guys could really rock. “Jawbone” is just plain odd, with a trick opening and a nearly impossible-to-follow meter if you’re trying to clap along. “The Unfaithful Servant” (excellent lead vocal by Rick Danko) seemingly sends us back to another era, its graceful piano and acoustic guitar ringing in somebody’s parlor, while “King Harvest (Has Surely Come)” details what’s happening out in the fields. It’s an excellent display of their dynamics.
This is another one of those albums that people say is perfect, and they’re entitled to their opinion. It’s very good, and it’s solid, but most of all it’s mysterious. More than anything, it influenced other musicians, who would strive to recreate the same sense of community on their own records. But even The Band would find how ego and other distractions would make such a democracy impossible. We’ve gone back and forth about what rating to give it, simply because we don’t personally feel compelled to play it all that often, but somehow anything less doesn’t make sense.
The first expanded and remastered CD got major points for including “Get Up Jake”, a later B-side recorded during these sessions, alongside some intriguing alternate takes and/or mixes. These were all nicely carried over to the 50th anniversary edition of the album, once again remixed by Bob Clearmountain, alongside six further alternate takes and mixes. But the best reason to pick it up was the inclusion of their entire Woodstock set, which was split between music from Big Pink and then-unreleased arrangements of “Don’t Ya Tell Henry”, “Ain’t No More Cane”, “Baby Don’t You Do It”, and “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever”.

The Band The Band (1969)—4
2000 CD reissue: same as 1969, plus 7 extra tracks
2019 50th Anniversary Edition: same as 2000, plus 17 extra tracks

No comments:

Post a Comment