Thursday, February 11, 2010

Hall of Fame Album: The Band-The Band

1969. Flower power and free love have become mainstream, so some bands are looking for different styles entering a new decade. The Beatles have long abandoned their psychedelic leanings, the Stones have now truly found themselves in the midst of great dirty rock 'n roll, and the guys from the Band have.....release perhaps the best Americana album ever? Remarkably, that doesn't fit the time stamp, at all, but the stories and music wrap themselves so comfortably, you almost feel like your grandfather could be sitting by the fireside telling them to you. Does this look like a bunch of guys that are going to put flowers in your hair or do they look like they just came into town on horseback looking for the nearest watering hole?

"The Band" was released just a couple years after touring with Dylan and releasing their debut "Music From The Big Pink", another solid album, I just prefer this sophomore effort a lot more. There are no hints of psychedelia on this album, for starters. Not that I hate psychedelic albums, just that it's rare to find something from this time period without them. They're a workingman's band and they are at the top of their craft here, carving out a warm, rustic piece of American pie ~ a pie made by a band that is 80% Canadian.

Robbie Robertson pretty much had his hand in writing or co-writing all the material. It starts with the swing of "Across The Great Divide", where Richard Manuel is asking you "to pack up your bags and take that ride". It's a perfect start to begin your American journey, an open invitation to, I don't know, join your friends as they travel on the Oregon Trail to the west coast. It's followed by the fantastic ragtime piano and Hee-Haw fiddle inspiring of "Rag Mama Rag".

And Robertson draws upon character upon character after that. You meet an old retired sailor taking comfort in his "Rockin' Chair", a thief (and he digs it) in "Jawbone", a beautiful Manuel sung piano ballad "Whispering Pines", a song that may have set the stage for the 70's trucker fad "Look Out Cleveland", you meet "The Unfaithful Servant", and most impressive is the final track with the cool feeling of autumn about when the crops are ready to be harvested and the union working farmer who is desperate for his "crops to grow tall" in "King Harvest (Has Surely Come)".

"Up On Cripple Creek" is their best known song and the one I remember most as a youngster. Working on a Stevie Wonderesque groove, I've always loved the exploits of this guy who's going to the horse track, heading to the Gulf Of Mexico, and hanging out with Betsy, who'll always take care of him, all wrapped up with yodeling near the end...At  7, I always pictured these guys performing this on a dairy farm somehwere. The other standout is "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" with images of a broken down south at or towards the end of the Civil War. Its character, Virgil Kane, dealing with the aftermath after fighting for the confederacy and the consequences of restructure. (It's such a fantastic piece, you could swear you've seen the movie before...even if it hasn't been made yet.)

In some liner notes, Robertson said "You can feel the wood in this record!" There's a wide array of instruments and none of them sound the same from song to song. Garth Hudson is a maestro in throwing in different instruments, from saxophones to clavinets and organs. Levon Helm's drum work, like taking care of the little drum roll into the "Dixie" chorus, is spot on. Rick Danko lays down some great grooves and vocals "Look Out Cleveland". Robertson's guitar fills are bluesy without being overpowering. Richard Manuel...well the man had a voice like an Appalachian angel. The Band were in total sync.

If you enjoy any sort of alternative country rock or roots rock, I highly recommend "The Band". And maybe rent out a remote log cabin somewhere in a desolate location in Montana to heighten your listening pleasure.


  1. Funny, because I was just listening to the band. My actually played this album a lot when it first came out. I was 7 or 8.

  2. Make that my mom played the album.