Sunday, 28 April 2013
Top 102 Albums⁺ No 14 The Band - The Band
Top 102 Albums⁺ No 14
The Band - The Band
"A scarecrow in a yellow moon,
Pretty soon, the carnival on the edge of town,
King Harvest has surely come"
Folk, jazz, country, marching band, bluegrass, blues, bruised funk... The Band achieve a kind of musical synthesis of America on this album which manages to be a wake and a celebration, a eulogy and an accusation. Carnivals should be held in honour of this album.
Garth Hudsons organ, Rick Danko's bass, Levon Helm's drumming, the way they switch vocals seamlessly, Robbie Robertson's guitar, Richard Manuel's piano and then there's everything else they play, without any drop in quality. This was one of the greatest musical combos of the twentieth century in the full flowering of their talent, years on the road having apparently given them a shared neural system. If you look up ensemble playing in a good dictionary the front cover of this album is what you'll see.
Robbie Robertson's songs show he'd learnt well in Dylan's basement laboratory, synthesising history with the human NOW, the direct with the deviant, myth with grit. The album starts with Across the Great Divide, which invokes us to join in, to become a part rather than apart, but without dismissing the desire to leave, or denying the difficulties of staying. It ends with the astonishment that is King Harvest, where strikes and failed harvests threaten to break family and community apart. In between many of the songs deal with tensions between belonging and isolation.
Listening to this album you could be forgiven for thinking that it was a full of cover versions of long burnished american classics. The songs seem infused with time, understanding and the wisdom of the wind. That they are all the work of a Canadian 26 year old is bewildering. The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down in particular has the authentic feel of a song that has been transmitted from hand to hand.
The almost whispered chorus in King Harvest; the funky opening of Jemima Surrender; the duelling yodels on the outro to Up On Cripple Creek: this album is made up of sublime moments, delicious arrangements and phrasing, all appearing to be playing a supporting role. It's not an album where egos appear to dominate. Robertson sings none of the songs and wrote for the three singers voices like a scriptwriter for an actor. The music is the message.
Jawbone is the tale of a three time loser a thief who is always getting caught. I love how it undermines the rebel mythmaking:"Your name up on the post office wall, Puts you on edge 'cause they wrote it too small!" and the way, like in so many songs, there are different voices at work in the song - the narrator in the verses and then Jawbone himself in the choruses: "I'm a thief, and I dig it!" Whether you steal this or buy it, if you don't dig it you're the clay and not the shovel!