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Main Category: Roots Rock
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Starting Period: The Psychedelic Years
Also active in: The Artsy/Rootsy Years, The Interim Years,

From Grunge To The Present Day



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Year Of Release: 1968
Overall rating = 13

Nobody knows what these guys really mean - but everybody knows they mean some serious business.


Track listing: 1) Tears Of Rage; 2) To Kingdom Come; 3) In A Station; 4) Caledonia Mission; 5) The Weight; 6) We Can Talk; 7) Long Black Veil; 8) Chest Fever; 9) Lonesome Suzie; 10) This Wheel's On Fire; 11) I Shall Be Released.

Like pretty much every album of its stature, Big Pink has always been overrated by critics, but that doesn't necessarily mean that all of the Band-worshipping crowds were wrong: they just never pointed out one little detail that doesn't quite fit into the grand scheme, namely, that Big Pink is a doggone hard listen, and that its greatness, if there is such a thing, and if it doesn't overwhelm you at once, will take a long long time to realize.

Seriously, The Band might have knocked a lot of people off their feet back then in 1968, but by today's standards the album almost seems tame and docile, so that it's pretty easy to miss what all the fuss was about. These guys don't go for a lot of catchiness (although when you look closely, at the heart of nearly each song you still have a well-implanted hook that can eventually get you); their musicianship is very good, but not outstanding; and... ah well, the flaws of this record are sooo on the surface, I don't really need to drag on about them.

But that's really not the point. The Band were at the forefront of the "roots rock" revolution at the tail end of the Sixties, so it's only natural that you don't get a lot of catchy pop from that side. Where Music From Big Pink really stands apart from most records by The Band's peers (the Byrds, CCR, Buffalo Springfield, Flying Burrito Brothers, CSN, etc., etc.) is in the ambition department. Simply put, these guys were not afraid to be pretentious and pompous - not afraid to go ahead and try to elevate roots-rock to almost prog-rock proportions. And I'm not necessarily meaning things like the Bach-derived organ introduction to 'Chest Fever', even though I do mean that, too. I mean the general mood. The slow stately tempos. Richard Manuel's quasi-operatic vocals. Robbie Robertson's half Biblical, half quizzical lyrics. The choice in covers. Well, just about everything.

It's a grand album, in short (and while we're on that, let me point out the general, and blatant, hypocrisy in the traditional American critical school of thought which casually dismisses ninety percent of progressive rock as "pretentious" and yet has the nerve to worship these guys, whose pretensions on their own level easily match the pretensions of Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman on theirs. Suckers. It's not the "pretention" that really bothers them, it's the fact that somebody dares to put too much classical influence into rock music. Ah, never mind). A grand album with enormous ambitions, and the very fact that The Band are able to pull it off and not make complete assholes of themselves is enough to demand at least some respect for the stuff.

To summarize the abovesaid, the record has no embarrassments, a few all-time classics, and loads of good, solidly written and performed songs. The Band's biggest asset at this point was, I think, primarily the overload of vocal talent: drummer Levon Helm, bassist Rick Danko, and pianist Richard Manuel all sing, and they all have distinct singing personalities. Manuel's soulful, plaintive, occasionally heartbreaking tenor is used most often, but Danko's a trifle "paranoid" delivery works well too, while Helm adds the necessary "earthy" element to the proceedings. Without the vocal talent, none of the material would be worth a dang.

Instrumentally, Big Pink is no great shakes, but Garth Hudson's organ is highly recommendable throughout, not just on 'Chest Fever'. Much too often, people have been making the point about the near-total lack of guitar solos on the album (apparently, this was one of the main factors that artistically ruined Eric Clapton's solo career, heh), but I wouldn't place too much emphasis on that - after all, The Band were Dylan's disciples, and when you have Bob as your guru, the guitar solo really isn't worth that much. Robbie does get a couple onto record, though, most notably on 'To Kingdom Come'.

In terms of songwriting, The Band was still a democratic unit at this point, and Robertson almost equally splits the songwriting with Manuel, although beyond that there are four covers on the album. The three Basement Tapes-era Dylan interpretations (two actually co-written by Dylan with Manuel and Rick Danko, to be correct) are a marvel. If 'Tears Of Rage' seems a bit slow to you at first, give it a chance and at some point Hudson's organ swirls and Manuel's absolutely gorgeous singing are going to get to you. 'This Wheel's On Fire' may not rock nearly as hard as the Byrds' version, but, again, Hudson's weird organ tone, joined by Robbie's talkbox-enhanced guitar, certainly qualifies. However, the best of these by a long, long shot is 'I Shall Be Released' - one of the two or three occasions in world history where even I, with my normally Dylan-sympathizing tastes, would never prefer Dylan's ragged take over this ethereal piece of total beauty. Manuel's falsetto could move mountains on that one.

Speaking of The Band's own songs (drat! will I always have to resort to these capital letters from now on?), the best-known, and deservedly best-known, thing on here is Robbie's 'The Weight', of course, which you may also know as 'Take A Load Off Fanny', or, according to a particularly berserk interpretation of the song, 'take a load of Fanny' where Fanny symbolizes the clap. Err... well, might as well be, because the song has never had a decent interpretation anyway. Obviously, Robbie was taking lessons from Bobbie, and he used to often acknowledge that many of his songs don't have any particular meaning - like, 'Chest Fever' has just got dummy words that they forgot to replace with better lyrics when it came to recording. Anyway, my point is, The Band may seem to represent a collective Second Coming to you, or some of their fans, but they're not the collective Second Coming, so don't spend too much time wracking your brain trying to decipher Robbie's enigmatic messages. Does the message of 'The Weight' really matter anyway? Nope. It's just a cool, catchy, anthemic folk-rocker. Actually, if it did have a straightforward message, I'd be offended. I much prefer to focus on that wonderful bombastic piano phrase before each refrain.

The already twice-mentioned 'Chest Fever' is the other highlight, with that massive artsy organ intro (which Garth would later stretch out in concert to far more huge proportions) and memorable organ riff. Robbie also writes 'To Kingdom Come', the album's most playful, rollickin' tune, and the beautiful 'Caledonia Mission' which, I think, is partially ruined by having that upbeat rockin' part cutting through the soulful slow part, but I guess it's possible to get used to it, especially since both parts are essentially good. Manuel's contributions are generally simpler and more direct - with the lulling, intimate 'Lonesome Suzie' a particular highlight, but both 'In A Station' and 'We Can Talk' also enjoyable. In fact, the only song on the album that I think is somewhat inferior is that fourth cover, the country ditty 'Long Black Veil', just because The Band and Dylan write better songs!

Still, do not forget - when you're dealing with The Band, the songwriting is only one part of the package. A significant part, and they don't really let you down with it (they really write as opposed to talentless roots-rock bands who merely rip off), but it should only come together with the delivery. And on here, The Band deliver and deliver in a great way. Who knows, maybe if more roots-rock acts thought of lifting roots-rock "off the ground", The Band would get lost somewhere in the crowd. But nobody except for The Band really ever had the balls to do that, much less get away with it.



Year Of Release: 1969
Overall rating = 13

Tangled Up In Roots. Or, "In Wood", as the band members would themselves say.


Track listing: 1) Across The Great Divide; 2) Rag Mama Rag; 3) The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down; 4) When You Awake; 5) Up On Cripple Creek; 6) Whispering Pines; 7) Jemima Surrender; 8) Rockin' Chair; 9) Look Out Cleveland; 10) Jawbone; 11) The Unfaithful Servant; 12) King Harvest (Has Surely Come); [BONUS TRACKS:] 13) Get Up Jake (outtake­stereo mix); 14) Rag Mama Rag (alternate vocal take­rough mix); 15) The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (alternate mix); 16) Up On Cripple Creek (alternate take); 17) Whispering Pines (alternate take); 18) Jemima Surrender (alternate mix); 19) King Harvest Has Surely Come (alternate performance).

I confess I don't like this album nearly as much as Big Pink, primarily due to some weak spots on Side 2, but seeing as how Side 1 is practically perfect, and as how The Band were essentially still at the peak of their game at the time, I'm willing to let both share the same rating. Let this one be a very weak 13.

There has actually been a serious change of sound in between the two, although it's rarely paid attention. With this self-titled effort (originally to be titled Harvest but retitled with the band's name so as to "avoid confusion" among the listeners about that name, it's said), The Band move away from the artsy influences that permeated the debut, and stick even closer and even truer to their roots. You'll note that two things which are featured much less prominently on here are Manuel's operatic vocal stylizations and Hudson's organ flourishes; well, both are featured, but there's nothing like the almost baroque dramatism of 'Tears Of Rage' or the pompous 'Chest Fever' intro to be found among these songs. Instead, the emphasis is on tight, relentless band interplay with not one instrument ever overshadowing another; and Levon Helm with his Southern voice rises as main vocalist on about half of the songs.

Even the recording process, with The Band renting Sammy Davis Jr.'s house in the Hollywood Hills, blocking all the windows, bringing in all kinds of traditional, old, creaky instruments, etc., shows that this time around the emphasis had to be on "authenticity". 'You can feel the wood in this record!', Robertson used to say, and I guess we get to feel that wood starting already with that defyingly brown album cover. (No more surrealistic Dylan paintings!).

As a result, I sort of miss the bombast of Big Pink, but fortunately, The Band are so well-oiled and their instrumental techniques so diverse that the ensuing album is anything but generic. Or maybe it is generic, but in the same way then as The Beatles are "generic pop" - not as much 'common' as 'setting the paradigm'. And besides, these guys are still way too sterile (in the good sense of the word) and 'academic' to fall to the level of common average barroom rock. The Band is, as everyone will tell you, deeply tied in with "Americana", but the truth is that it's rather a scholastic exercise in "Americana", not Americana itself. That's why it's so proverbially good - when compared to stuff like Lynyrd Skynyrd (which is also good, but seriously less challenging). All these motives collected in one big pile, all this whacky pile of instruments and playing modes heaped together, all these images in Robertson's lyrics (and this is the album, by the way, where Robertson establishes complete songwriting control over the group) - no wonder the critics pissed themselves all over these guys, and reasonably so, as you can write PhDs over this whole shenanigan. To put it more correctly, it's like a PhD in itself.

And actually, only if you take it as a PhD can you pardon something like 'The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down'. These guys are not Southerners, except for Levon Helm who they appropriately made sing the song - they're kind of like modelling this Southern situation, trying to recreate the insulted Southern pride on a theatrical level. It's not like Robbie Robertson's great-grandfather died in the Civil War, and it's certainly not like The Band are pro-Confederate or pro-slavery; they're just voicing these Southern pride concerns because (a) they exist and (b) they're interesting to 'em.

Anyway, the first side of this album is arguably the best side of original material The Band ever came up with - packed with material that every good American knows by heart. Primarily, of course, the "hit" 'Up On Cripple Creek', with its complex, yet catchy refrain and the unforgettable faux-Jew's harp breaks that Garth Hudson imitates with the wah-wah pedal on his clavinet; and the already mentioned 'The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down', which might be a bit slow moving when it comes to the chorus but at least they manage to perfectly capture the falsetto harmonies of Manuel when he joins Levon out there (a great effect, usually lost on live recordings). These two songs are absolute classics.

But there's more - there's 'Across The Great Divide', with another great Manuel vocal and another soulful, uplifting chorus (a song that stylistically fits the most with the Big Pink mood); there's the multi-layered boogie of 'Rag Mama Rag' (did I mention yet that most of the songs feature minimal overdubbing? these guys were so versatile and there were so many of them that they managed to get that incredibly full sound live most of the time); there's the brilliant shuffling 'When You Awake', with another fabulously structured chorus that I can never get out of my head yet always fail to catch up with whenever I'm trying to sing along to it; and there's the gorgeous ballad 'Whispering Pines', Manuel's only chance at delivering that resplendent, angelically beautiful atmosphere that he conferred to us so often on Music From Big Pink. These guys sure know how to pull the strings.

Unfortunately, like I said, the second side is a relative letdown, with material that would be prime stuff for any basic barroom rock band but is a bit pedestrian for The Band. 'Jemima Surrender', for instance - how does that compare with 'Up On Cripple Creek'? That's the kind of song that The Faces could do much better. 'Rockin' Chair' is extremely pretty, but again, hardly qualifies next to 'Whispering Pines'. 'Look Out Cleveland' is moderately catchy, and a bit more intriguing and complex than 'Jemima Surrender', but still doesn't amount to much, I guess. After these three good, but unexceptional songs in a row, the album starts picking it up again, though - with the bizarre 'Jawbone' and its controversial 'I'm a thief and I dig it!' refrain; the Rick Danko-sung ballad 'Unfaithful Servant' which is sort of like his own personal retort to Manuel's delivery on 'Whispering Pines' and also features a beautiful mandolin solo; and, of course, the "dark horse" of the album - 'King Harvest (Has Surely Come)'.

That last song particularly intrigues me not because of its lyrical message (which is fairly simple - a straightforward narrative of the hard-working farmer's life), but because of the weird, weird, weird chorus: especially when they deliver that somber 'King Harvest has surely come' line, which is almost a little dissonant - and then the short drum break seamlessly throws us out of that strange chord sequence into the main rocking part. I'm just attracting attention to that because it shows The Band, with all their rootsiness, weren't afraid of a little experimentation with song structure and untrivial time signatures every now and then. Plus, Robbie gives a sharp, "meaningful" guitar solo at the end as a special bonus treat.

So, despite the inconsistencies, it's still a great record, and what with the change in attitude and all, you could be expecting these inconsistencies. After all, The Band are only human, and besides, it doesn't help much when all your material is being written by one person (or at least supervised by one person - I'm really not getting into all those stories and bickerings about how Robertson cheated the rest of his bandmates out of songwriting credits and all). There's still half a dozen absolutely great songs on here, and not a single bad one. And it's got a brown cover! And Rick Danko is pictured with a contrabass on the inlay photo! And Robertson looks completely dorky with that silly moustache! One thing about The Band that you can never deny is that they got plenty of charisma going on.



Year Of Release: 1970
Overall rating = 12

Closer to the average listener, but more distant from the average Americanologist.

Best song: THE SHAPE I'M IN

Track listing: 1) Strawberry Wine; 2) Sleeping; 3) Time To Kill; 4) Just Another Whistle Stop; 5) All La Glory; 6) The Shape I'm In; 7) The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show; 8) Daniel And The Sacred Harp; 9) Stage Fright; 10) The Rumor.

The critics didn't think much of Stage Fright when it first came out. Next to its elder and middle brother, the album looked positively lightweight, ambitionless, monotonous, and unadventurous. Years went by, and eventually it became apparent that this was quite intentional. Pretty much following the example of their Minnesotan guru, The Band chose to become afraid of their sudden populairty burst and of the whole Americana-related myth that the press and the fans built around them, rather than just continue wallowing in said popularity. Hence the album title, which can be understood as both referring to a certain proved clinical fact concerning Robbie Robertson and to the band situation in general.

Luckily for them, they still had songwriting ideas in spades. And that's what they're doing here, writing songs and performing them. No extra burden to bear. Take a load off, Fanny. Of course, they can't just walk away from the stuff they're seriously concerned about. A few of the songs would still thematically fit into the panorama of the previous album, most notably the ones with the longest titles on here, but overall, this is just your average well-written roots-rock with lyrics that are usually personal and intimate rather than universalist or American-history-oriented. The word of day is consistency: every single song on here brings a little steak of emotion to the table, and did I say something about charisma in that last review? Multiply it. They sound even more friendly and inviting on Stage Fright than they did before. Robbie Robertson may be a bastard in real life, but... heck, maybe that is why he always leaves all the singing to his better disposed colleagues.

Two big "classics" this time - the title track and 'The Shape I'm In'. The title track, I confess, had always irked me the wrong way, but that's because I mostly heard it live, with Rick Danko putting so much emphasis on these paranoid little vocal JUMPS! on the third line of EACH! verse that it made ME! a little FRISKY! myself, if you KNOW! what I MEAN! In the studio it comes off a little smoother, so that it's easier to appreciate the heartfelt pulsation of the song. Amazingly, it doesn't contain any major hooks, yet is somehow memorable despite such odds. Musically, the best thing about it is probably Garth Hudson's jazzy organ solo, which seems to push the tune into a totally different dimension before Danko fishes it out again and brings the horrifying tale of the man with the stage fright to its logical conclusion. And they made this tune a hit? In 1970? Good lads.

Still, the band is certainly at its tightest on 'The Shape I'm In'. Now this song is catchy almost to the state of obnoxiousness; in fact, it would be obnoxious, if not for the simple fact that not every song with a nagging, repetitive refrain should necessarily suck (otherwise, folk music might have never existed in the first place), and also because the band is really so good on it. The song's two last minutes are given away to Hudson and Manuel for jamming away, with Robertson supporting them with an odd, funky rhythm part, and that's easily the most awesome two-minute bit on the entire album. Besides, The Band are not usually known for favouring steady, collected beats, which is why they sound all the more powerful when they do display one.

That said, Stage Fright is hard to judge in terms of highlights and lowlights. The Band rarely do obvious filler, and at the same time they rarely compose songs in terms of "the main hook enters at 1:34 into the song and is repeated three times before the end" mentality - with a bunch of guys thus obstinate, you may be sure that you will very rarely experience an outburst of positive (or negative) energy in the middle of the song; rather you will simply be feeling mildly positive (or negative) from first to last second. And with little to none ambitions and an acute desire to tone down their style, certainly Stage Fright sort of brings that tendency to its culmination. Even the production is significantly 'flatter' than before, glueing the instruments together and sticking the vocals some hundred meters away from the Hammond organ and somewhere out there underneath the brass section, meaning that you either got to take the whole "lump" without complaining or just walk away - you won't be missed.

Thus, a song like 'Strawberry Wine' has to appeal to you around 0:20 into the song - if it doesn't, no way it will do anything more for you. And if you're not too interested from the beginning, chances are it will not appeal to you. It's a rather generic blues-rocker, after all; why should it? Why? Well, for starters, Hudson plays a mean (and hilarious) accordeon on the song, and Helm sings with a mean (arguably not so hilarious, though) accent. A rather original twist on the basic genre, methinks. On 'Time To Kill', the best thing is to tap your foot a little and play some air guitar to Robbie's solo to get caught up in the general grooviness - otherwise, boredom is guaranteed. On 'Just Another Whistle Stop', whose melody reminds me a little of 'Do You Believe In Magic' by the Lovin' Spoonful, the best thing to do is to identify with Manuel's sorrowful, soulful delivery. For the record, Manuel continues to be criminally underused for this record, or, rather, Manuel's trademark falsetto, which, come to think of it, hasn't really been "trademark" for quite some time. But that doesn't mean his vocal part on 'Just Another Whistle Stop' isn't top-notch anyway.

Whatever be, the charisma strikes hardest on 'The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show', sort of a The Band answer to 'Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite', only purely on American soil this time. It's a primitive tune, it's a knock-off, with The Band's experience and knowledge, it could have been written in five minutes and recorded in three, but maybe that's why it rules so hard; nothing more excruciating than hearing somebody unexperienced and uninspired take on a traditionally-oriented pastiche, making it sound forced, overwrought, and completely unnecessary, and nothing more exhilarating than hearing somebody well-versed doing a lightweight throwaway number that he obviously revels in. And since Stage Fright is a throwaway album by nature, what right does one have to hold a grudge against such a tune? None whatsoever. In fact, I like it more than the way more serious 'Daniel And The Sacred Harp', a pseudo-folk tale that really belongs on The Band rather than here, I'd say, but I guess they couldn't really do without a big old "look at us we're so beardedly American" thing at all, and it doesn't spoil the picture much anyway.

The ballads come off with a little more grunting on here, but still, over time I got accustomed to both the dreamy romanticism of 'Sleeping' and the lullabyish overtones of 'All La Glory' - the latter sung by Helm in a distinctly Dylanish tone; even more curiously, in a distinctly Dylanish tone circa 1970, which makes me suspect these guys must have been holding quite different feelings toward Bob's Selfportrait debacle from the regular critical opinion. Actually, now that I think of it, all of the band members did play on Selfportrait, which makes it quite a natural thing. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me none if their decision to "go down" turned out to have been taken under the influence of Bob's decision to "go down". They had this... this... whatchamacallit? Bond, that's it. They had a spiritual bond going on, didn't they? "What's good for Bob is good for us", that kind of mentality. Thank Christ they disbanded before Bob got into his Christian schtick.



Year Of Release: 1971
Overall rating = 10

The Band... paying tribute to The Band.


Track listing: 1) Life Is A Carnival; 2) When I Paint My Masterpiece; 3) Last Of The Blacksmiths; 4) Where Do We Go From Here?; 5) 4% Pantomime; 6) Shoot Out In Chinatown; 7) The Moon Struck One; 8) Thinkin' Out Loud; 9) Smoke Signal; 10) Volcano; 11) The River Hymn.

All these long years I've somehow managed to spend in the blissful ignorance of the word "cahoots" and its possible implications. As of now, this situation is impossible to tolerate and it demands immediate remedying. Out comes Chamber's Twentieth Century and this is what it says: cahoot "(U.S.) company or partnership". Now this is certainly the pinnacle of irony. Okay, so I have no problem with the 'U.S.' bit. The Band, as every respectable outfit of Canadian origin, have always been eager to somehow denote their Americana quintessence, and Cahoots follows steadfast in the footsteps of Stage Fright and the like. But 'company, partnership' is definitely a little more on the fidgety side, given that by 1971 that Woodstock-basement spirit of camaraderie had all but evaporated. The Band now was "Robbie Robertson And His So-Called Friends" rather than anything else.

Further on the down side, even such a configuration could be tolerable if Robbie Robertson actually bothered to give a half-serious damn about anything. If Stage Fright was like The Band minus the quest for musical progression and perfection, then Cahoots is like Stage Fright minus the quest for interesting melodies. It took me three listens just to begin warming up to these tunes, which at first seemed lifeless, hookless, fruitless, and gutless; and it took all of these guys' personal skills, charisma, and intelligence to convince me that the album isn't a mere waste of money, time, and treasurable life forces. They just don't seem to be actually working on this one. All of the songs, each and every one of them, seem like Robbie was just giving some raw clue - one, two, three - and off they went, carried along by their professionalism and experience. That's the way Dylan used to work (and still does, probably), but Dylan was (is?) a genius, and Robertson is merely a workman; what's good for the proverbial Jupiter ain't no use to the proverbial bull.

Hence, no wonder that the album was panned even more seriously than Stage Fright; and no wonder that the only (very) minor classic on here is the opening track, 'Life Is A Carnival', because nothing else commands your attention with so much force, chaos, and volume. Not that the song is powerful, chaotic, or loud, it just goes to show how bland everything else is. At the very least, it's more of a kick-ass album opener than 'Strawberry Wine', that's for sure. But, again, it's a little bit strange for a musical group the relations between the members of which are so (mildly speaking) 'strained' to open their next album with a song that tries to emulate a reckless 'party' atmosphere, and neither the upbeat horns nor the hob-nobbing funky guitars nor the double and triple vocal overdubs manage to convince me of the song's sincerity. It just isn't there. It's still a fun song but it doesn't go straight to the heart.

Almost in desperation, so it seems, they fall back upon covering Dylan, this time the freshly written 'When I Paint My Masterpiece'. Naturally, it's the best song on here, but it's actually even far from the best song Dylan wrote in that period. Besides, why the heck is Levon singing it? Isn't Manuel the big Dylan guy of the band? Or is it the 'comic' nature of the song that prompted them to give it to Levon? Not that I care a lot, it's just that Manuel once again is underused on the album while Levon is overused. And while I have nothing against Hudson's accordeon parts, it irks me when I realize that that guy's talents are rather underappreciated, as well. If Robertson's secret egotistic dream was to turn Garth into the band's resident accordeonist, well, he's getting better and better at that.

If I were to rate the other nine songs with apples and oranges, each and every one would probably receive the same apple-core wrapped in the same orange peel. Verse, chorus, verse, chorus, or just verse with repeated last line, same tempo, same mood, some a teeny weeny bit faster, some a teeny weeny bit slower. Really obvious and predictable chord changes. Arrangements that you already know will be fat and dense because these guys play so many instruments, but will offer you no surprises because they've already played everything they know on them. Lyrics that mean little or mean nothing. Singing that seems to hammer "well, we're being paid for this" into your head for an eternity. And, of course, professionalism a-plenty.

And nothing helps. Van Morrison is invited to lend a hand to '4% Pantomime'. After all, Van The Man isn't known for writing catchy melodies; he's known for taking dull melodies and livening them up with huge overdoses of passion and "vocal fire". Surely he can help. He can't. He's barely audible over all the instrumental racket these guys produce in hope of getting you out of your chair, and his duet with Manuel just doesn't gel. Again, it's not bad or anything, but if there is 'fire' on this track, it must be of the tinderstick variety, because I can't get it out of the song no matter how much I try. It is amusing to hear The Man being referred to as 'Belfast cowboy' by Manuel, though.

Likewise, it does no good for the band to scream 'VOLCANO! I'M ABOUT TO BLOW!' at the top of their lungs on the track bearing that same name - no amount of brass overdubbing can hide the fact that they just don't have the strength to really shake it up the way they could have done, for instance, five years ago onstage with Dylan. They aren't about to blow; they are blowing it, song after song after song, trying to pass laziness for enthusiasm. So when they actually come out with songs that are intentionally lazy, like the subtle, relaxed ballad 'The Moon Struck One', I'm finding it easier to take because they sound oh so more natural, if not necessarily oh so more memorable.

The only notable instrumental performance on the album is from Hudson on 'Last Of The Blacksmiths' - I still don't quite understand the way he gets this sound out of that particular brass instrument he's blowing, but it sounds totally crazy and quite cool, provided the glass in your windows is strong enough for that one last note on the solo. But other than that, the song is just another attempt at sounding old, wisened-up, and very American, like 'Daniel And The Sacred Harp', and at the same time absolutely unmemorable. So I'd probably rather take 'Shoot Out In Chinatown' over it, since that one is at least livelier and it was a fine idea to uplift the chorus with a quasi-progressive Mellotron line to give it more 'breadth'.

It's curious that at this point, Levon's vocal delivery actually starts getting more and more Dylan-esque, and I'm not just referring to 'When I Paint...' - doesn't 'The River Hymn' sound a wee bit like something directly off Selfportrait or New Morning? In fact, it's things like these that could give rise to suspicion that The Band were, in the most direct sense possible, Dylan's "spiritual adepts": with Bob's decline into laziness and inactivity in the early Seventies, so did The Band. They were still able to kick it live, for sure, but it is certainly not coincidental that their double live album of next year wouldn't contain even a single track off Cahoots, despite the latter having already been released well before the actual shows. This is, like, the epitome of Perfunctory Professionalism. I can't give it less than a 10 but I don't want to ever hear it again, or else my standards stand in danger of getting flushed down the drain.


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