George Starostin's Reviews



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Victor Prose <> (07.11.2002)

There are certain historic moments that occur in the history of every web critic's personal music page. Think of Disclaimer Review Archive's unforgettable dismissal of the Beatles' classic Abbey Road. Or the slow demise of Wilson and Alroy. Or the very instant (one which we will all never forget) when Mark Prindle sold out. Yes, these are all irrepressible in their gargantuan repercussions, making their origins all the more resonant over time. And by the time Mark is complaining about the abrasiveness of independent rock music, Wilson and Alroy have been preserved next to Lenin, and Cap'n Marvel has been promoted to Vice Admiral, (probably around 2037), I will still freshly remember this moment, November 6th, 2002, when former Prindle protogee George Starostin finally saw the light and decided to review The Band's landmark, utterly worthy debut album. Had he given the album an 8 or a 7, citing the music as muddled, dreary pseudo-Dylan country-rock fodder, it could have spawned the massive civil war that would divide all Starostin followers in two camps, and the East Starostists would one day violently overcome the west Starostists. But no. The Band has won their deserved 10, 34 years after the fact. Rejoyce, as Grace Slick has said. Today, 13 is a lucky number.

And as God as my witness, I, Ryan "Victor Prose" Maffei, will eagerly await the day when I am 80 years old, and online music critics have grown powerful enough to unite ALL of Europe as part of the EC, and I will be able to sit down in my rocking chair before the fire and tell them, "you know, I was around when Georgie Starostin finally gave Rick, Garth, Robbie, Rich and Levon their due..."

Chris Papadopoulos <> (30.01.2003)

Beautifully put, Victor. But George hasn't quite given these guys their due. Despite singing its praises, our host can't help himself and opines that Big Pink is overrated. This from a man who is happy to count Beatles for Sale among the albums he considers 'close to perfection'. Gimme a break. [But at least Beatles For Sale is not overrated! - G.S.]

Joseph Lyle <> (01.01.2004)

The thing that strikes me about the Bands' first two albums is their timelessness. They evoke images of times long since past, of an America that was feeling great internal tensions as it grew stronger. The vocals and lyrics create beautifully realized images ("The Night They drove Old Dixie Down") as well as absurd, surrealistic conversion that you might expect from the late 1960's("We Can Talk").I have never tired of rediscovering the subtle nuances of their musicianship and their unique vocalizing (Richard Manuel was my idea of a someone who suffered greatly for his art). They are sorely missed in a world were great popular music is getting hard to find.

Gerry Lasser <> (05.07.2006)

George, Your comment about ‘The Weight’ by The Band, “the song has never had a decent interpretation anyway…Does the message of 'The Weight' really matter anyway? Nope. It's just a cool, catchy, anthemic folk-rocker.” may be wrong. I probably would have agreed with you prior to Cassandra Wilson’s cover of the song (Belly of the Sun album). This is an exceptional interpretation because it conveys some meaning to the lyrics. Not any deep insight into life but a fairly superficial religious connotation about people in “Nazareth’, possibly a commune, where heaven, the devil and judgment day are real time events. He takes a load off Fanny by visiting these whackos and is relieved to be leaving. I could go through this line by line but I don’t think it’s necessary just listen to Cassandra and all will be revealed. Also, while I love The Band for their innovation, I think anything by Cassandra Wilson is worth a listen.


<> (08.11.2002)

When The Band made the cover of Time magazine in 1969, my dad went out and got the album out of curiosity. Being pretty much solely into the Beatles (when it came to spending money on albums that is) at that time, I hadn't heard of them. It's since become one of my favorites. One thing that strikes me is the dry, dry sound of this album. Levon Helm must have tuned his drums a weird way, because there's no ring to them at all, they just thump. Either that or it's the engineering. Really not much reverb on anything. In other contexts I wouldn't like it, but the sound fits the country and rockabilly influenced songs and the rustic lyrics. I disagree with you about side two. I think the album is consistently good throughout. "Rockin' Chair" is an incredibly moving song - how could a group of young guys capture the concept of age this convincingly? (And it rings truer as I get older!) That tight sound is made more remarkable by how loose and rollicking they sounded backing Dylan, on the basis of both the Royal Albert Hall concert and Before The Flood. I would have commented on Big Pink, but I didn't get that until many years later, and to me it doesn't sound as well-developed or unifed as The Band. Still has some great songs on it though.

<> (11.11.2002)

Have followed your site for a couple of months now and have enjoyed your thoughtful, comprehensive reviews. You do a great job and I would think that any avid fan of rock music, particularly classic rock, would appreciate the time you put forth to provide such rich (if not always accurate --we can't always agree, how boring would that be!) analysis of each release reviewed. I was puzzled to see that in the vast oasis of ratings and reviews that the Band was omitted and wondered why. Clearly such a fan of "the court jester" would be familiar with his most famous backing band -- not reviewing at all would be more of an insult than a complete thrashing!

Well it's good to see you've put some thought into this and finally gotten around to giving them a review. I have always thought that these musicians were dead on with the name The Band because they were a tight group, very versatile and were better live than in the studio.

Don't know how side two is a letdown. You even list "King Harvest" as the best track. "Rockin Chair"is a great gorgeous tune, and "Look Out Cleveland" and "Unfaithful Servant"are highlights as well. To me, the whole album is consistent and a great set up for the live set.

Richard Nightingale <> (15.01.2003)

This is my third favourite album (behind American Beauty and John Wesley Harding).I must admit when I first got this album I wondered what the fuss was all about.It really was unlike anything i'd ever heard before, but then the lyrics sucked me in.Robbie Robertson is without doubt one of the best songwriters ever!.In a strange way this album was very much like a history lesson. When I first heard 'The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down' I wasn't listening to the words but when I did I wanted to know what the hell this was all about, same goes for 'King Harvest'. Little history lessons is the best way to describe this album.(If only history lessons at school had been like this). This album often gets filed in the country rock category by a lot of rock critics, but it's really more in line with folk music with some blues thrown in for good measure.I must admit I was rather surprised to read that you prefer Big Pink it's a very good album but it's not a patch on this or Stage Fright. Overall rating for this album is 15 in fact if I had to give 1969 a rating for music it would also get a 15. What a great year!

<> (08.03.2003)

I'm extremely biased when it comes to this album as I think it should be in every music fan's library. Country music fans as well as rock and roll fans. The Band consisted of five members who were some of the finest musicians that America has ever produced. These guys could do it all and they incorporated country, blues gospel, even ragtime into their sound. The three singers all were at the top of their game and harmonized together beautifully. Music From Big Pink might have been the one that got all the attention, but this was the one where it all came together. Robertson wrote stories that celebrated old time America. 'Up On Cripple Creek' has to be one of the most infectious songs ever recorded. You can't help but tap your foot. The sound of the Jew's harp was achieved by Garth Hudson when he stuck a wah-wah pedal on his clavinet. 'The NIght They Drove Old Dixie Down' is another piece of superb storytelling from Robertson. Nobody ever examined the south's point of view after the civil war before, but Robertson not having even been born captures the angry emotion of a southern sympathizer so well. While we're on the subject, I have read Levon Helm's book where he openly questions whether Robertson acually had help in writing these songs. Hello? Bitter, party of one, your table is now ready. History will record Robbie Robertson as one of rock's greatest songwriters. It's The Band, one of the best loved groups ever. You got successful, you got rich, you got famous, and you got the respect of your peers...sit down and shut up Levon. From the first notes of the Richard Manuel sung 'Across The Great Divide', you will know that you're in for a musical experience like no other. I recomend this to everyone. All music lovers should have this album. Capitol records has just reissued this album with 24 bit digital remastering and seven bonus tracks. The sound quality is great. Find that one if you can.

Jeff Melchior <> (29.07.2004)

Here I was, ready to call this critical darling another one of those overrated phenomenons that nobody who wasn't there (in the Sixties) could relate to, even going so far as to declare Stage Fright and even Cahoots superior in The Band's repertoire. But The Band (the group AND album) get into your blood.

The Band (the album) is The Band's Exile On Main Street; the production is muddy and the attempts at roots music almost too real for those weaned on mainstream rock music. However, give it a little patience and the payout is immense.

In addition to the tunes most everyone knows ("Cripple Creek", "Dixie" and "Rag Mama Rag"), there are gems of brilliance throughout this album. While recording what seems to be a love anthem to a union ("King Harvest") may seem a little bizarre, the message and the quirky arrangement become clearer upon repeated listens. "Whispering Pine" is Richard Manuel at his pinnacle as a vocalist -- there's a brilliance and beauty in this song which transcends words. The Band were second only to The Beatles and The Kinks in their ability to identify with elderly people despite being young men, and "Rockin' Chair" is testament to that. "Jemima Surrender" is the closest The Band would ever get to cock rock (Thank God) and they STILL manage to do it better than any handful of '70s and '80s cock rock outfits. And do I see a precursor to arena rock in "Hello Cleveland"? This album is no quaint collection of rootsy/folksy country rock -- there is some real experimentation and variety here that even many prog rock bands could never duplicate in scope or ambition. Big Pink is still my favorite, but The Band is catching up fast. I'll go George one better and call this a STRONG 13 to Big Pink's weak 14.


dL <> (19.06.2005)

Just a bit of trivia for those who haven't heard about it before: the Stage Fright album was engineered by a very young Todd Rundgren, who literally hated those old hippies playing their "stupid country and western music". The tension was so great between the Band and Todd that in one instance TR was chased around the studio by drummer Levon Helm after he called Garth Hudson "an old fart" (which he really was). Rundgren said: "the Band had this image of being very natural and easy about their music, expert musicianship and all that. They were really just the opposite: very slow and unconfident about everything - you should see them before a gig, they're nervous as hell, running around biting their nails and all." No wonder the Band finally gave the tapes to Glyn Johns to remix them, so the final master contains some of Rundgren's mixes and some of Johns' mixes.

Brian Donovan <> (11.07.2005)

Around the time this came out the buzz was that the song "Stage Fright" was about Bob Dylan and his not playing a lot of concerts around that time. I can see it being about Robbie though as well.

I thought that the album was just a tad more conventional rock and roll than its two predecessors. Understandable since the Band had made the big time and this was in a sense their first record from the top. A little more lead guitar, tunes a little more up-tempo than last time. And lyrically they don't really push the envelope like on the last album's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," "Rockin Chair," "Jawbone," or "King Harvest" where they really adopt these really different perspectives from a first-person standpoint ("Daniel and the Sacred Harp" is in that vein though.)

Still they were pretty close to the top of their game at this point...a well-oiled ensemble playing really tight. They could make even mediocre material sound good, though that proposition gets tested on the next album.


Richard Nightingale <> (12.07.2005)

The Band are one of my favourite bands so i'm gonna be a bit biased. I think Cahoots is underated. Compared to the first three albums it does sound quite weak. But this album should be judged on it's own merits and it does contain a couple of fantastic tracks. The only thing that annoys me is the "modern" production. It doesn't suit the Band's style at all in my opinion. Great album cover though!! Dark, gothic and very sinister.

Brian Donovan <> (24.07.2005)

Levon Helm's book seems to bear you out on your primary criticism of the LP, namely that the material Robbie delivered wasn't up to snuff. (page 221 of my copy.)

I don't think the material was truly bad (except "Volcano" which really blows, pun intended) but it just didn't meet the standards set in the first three Band records. A lot of it has a recycled feel to it, still mining the old-timey images of the first three. Critics had a field day with the back cover photo, showing the group with their eyes closed. "They're playing like they're asleep" was the joke.

"When I Paint My Masterpiece" was my favorite tune. I had it in my mind a lot when I was in Europe for 6 months in 1974-75, especially the line "sailing 'round the world in a dirty gondola, oh to be back in the land of Coca Cola." That and peanut butter, Big Macs and Big Ten football! Still, the Band were good enough musicians so that the record has its moments. Van Morrison does liven up "4% Pantomine" and note how the drummer follows Van's accents on "without the slightest blush" as if it were spontaneous in the studio. Also I like the piano playing on "Smoke Signal," is that Richard or Garth?

"Life Is A Carnival" did appear on Rock Of Ages.

"Cahoots" is a term suggesting conspiracy. If I and some friends plan a surprise party for you, I'm in cahoots with the friends. If I want to steal from a bank and I "pull off the job with an inside man, who needs the cash and likes your plan" I'm in cahoots with the inside man.

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