Wednesday, December 23, 2015

"The Band"

The Band:  “The Band”
Secondhand Vinyl Album
Original Release Date:  1969 Capitol
My Rating:  (4 Stars)

Side One:
Across The Great Divide
Rag Mama Rag
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
When You Awake
Up On Cripple Creek
Whispering Pines

Side Two
Jemima Surrender
Rockin’ Chair
Look Out Cleveland
The Unfaithful Servant
King Harvest (Has Surely Come)

   To begin, I’d like to note that the record, “The Band,” by The Band was the specific album that inspired me to start writing a music blog.  Let me clarify the reason was not because I find this album to be one of my all-time favorites.  While I find The Band to be extremely effective at communicating the subjects it sets out to convey, at times I find the overall themes of this album to be a bit tiresome.  I guess what I’m getting at here is, one has to be in the mood to hear a true concept album when listening to, "The Band."  This being stated, I really have nothing else to criticize about this album.  In fact, I find it to be a fine piece of art that poetically illustrates 19th century rural Americana.  I guess if I was really fishing for complaints I could mention that the reason it’s taken me so long to approach reviewing this record is because I find the idea of it such a daunting task.  To put it simply, the album, “The Band,” is music for musicians.  The songs presented here contain instruments that range from mandolins, to tubas, to mouth harps, to something called a clavinette!  What the heck is a clavinette?!...and how did it find its’ way to my turntable?  Put together these rich sound combinations with complex tempo changes, and troubadour lyrics and what you have is a pretty dense evening of listening that could intimidate even the most narcissistic blogger.  However, what they hey, right?  I’ve got the time and the means to write just a few more words of praise for an album that has received plenty from critics, much more qualified than I. 
   To begin, I should state I’m a big fan of many things, Western.  Now, I’m not talking about fringe shirts with pearly buttons or country singers like Blake Shelton.  I’m talking Western like the race to build the railroad across the country.  I’m talking Western like coonskin caps.  I’m talking Western like Josey Wales.  Now, if you’re reading this review and find yourself nodding in agreement that, “Yeah, that’s the type of Western music I’m looking for!” I recommend you go and buy the album, “The Band,” right now and spare yourself the rest of this review’s painful drivel.  I guarantee I just described the whole feel of this record in three sentences, but will I stop there?… of course not.
    At this time I’d like to mention that the lyrics and instruments played during the album, “The Band,” make a listener feel like they’ve time traveled back to the year 1869.  Of course, this record also makes a listener feel like the 1800’s character they’ve become has sprung forward to the year 1969 where they find themselves in a time when music with this instrumental complexity was actually considered somewhat mainstream.  So wait…what year are we hanging out in while playing this record?
   I have to admit that in addition to the overall nostalgic feel of this album, it certainly doesn’t hurt that my particular vinyl copy contains some fairly prevalent snaps and pops that only heighten the overall old-world charm.  Combine these little, “flaws,” with the reeling sounds of violins presented in songs like, “Rag Mama Rag,” and this listener finds herself wanting to put on her fanciest prairie skirt and lace up those granny boots in order to hit the nearest barn raising party.  As ridiculous as this statement sounds, this imagery is not that far of a stretch from some of the stories told in the actual lyrics presented.  Songs like, “King Harvest (Has Surely Come),” and one of my personal favorites, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” are perfect examples of how The Band is a group who excels at creating a story that appeals to even the most unlikely audience.  During the latter of the two, this lifelong, "Yankee," blogger unexpectedly found herself feeling a tug of jealousy toward romantic Southern pride.  Suddenly I felt the need to run out on my front porch, hand against my brow, and yell, “Virgil, quick come see, there goes Robert E. Lee!”  I guess I can attribute this to the fact that the song, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” was actually written by J.R. Robertson a native from Canada.  Maybe many of us Northerners have a secret curiosity for Southern culture.
   In conclusion, I find it hard to critique individual songs from, "The Band," because it’s such a cohesive record.  I guess if I was pressed to pick an overall favorite I would choose the song, “Whispering Pines.”  Out of all the songs on this album it’s this one that feels like it could stand alone.  Some listeners may see this as a negative thing since it feels like this particular piece does not altogether fit with such an otherwise perfect concept.  However, this listener appreciates not only the reprieve from such a rigid theme, but also the imperfections found in the vocals of singer Richard Manuel.  Not only does his unique voice create a feeling of real emotion, but the abstract lyrics of, “Whispering Pines,” allows a listener to drift into their own serene place without being steered into it by the songwriter.  I guess my point is this blogger found a lot of beauty when allowed to imagine her own theme.

"The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down":

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed this review, although I was not a big The Band fan, I certainly liked many of their songs especially song that convey "Western like the race to build the railroad across the country." and Western like coonskin caps."I guess I a bigger fan of The Band than I thought.