Today we return to the highly acclaimed act of musicians from Canada and the United States, known as “The Band”. As noted previously, this group formed out of a backing gig with Bob Dylan, and built on his folk-rock sound with a variety of vocalists, harmony styles and compositions. This album, like most of their music, is highly rated. It is rated as the 57th best album of all time on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. And I just can’t understand why…
It’s not like the songwriting is poor, although beyond “Up On Cripple Creek”, “Look Out Cleveland”, and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”, the songs are pretty bland. There is nothing remarkable about the instrumental support, although it is good enough. And although the vocals aren’t great, there is a frayed charm to their sound, both solo and in harmony. A harmony vocal doesn’t have to be lush like Crosby, Stills and Nash or the Beach Boys to be effective. Listen to Mick and Keith sing together on many a Stones song, and you will understand what I mean. That is effectively what The Band goes for here, and my guess is like the rest of their act, it translates much better in a live setting. Three of the best examples of this are “Across the Great Divide”, “Jemima Surrender” and “Whispering Pines”. Each of these might hit in a live setting, but I think they sound stale and outdated, even in the context of an album that is over 50 years old.
It finally occurred what leaves me the most underwhelmed by this album, and it is the production. Unlike many of their contemporaries of this time, the mix of these songs just doesn’t do the band any favors. The instruments are imbalanced and often buried in the mix, and the vocals often sound as if they were recorded from a distance with inadequate and dated recording equipment. Like I said, I bet this band sounded much better live. They had to, the entire ensemble is filled with highly accomplished and regarded musicians. I just don’t hear much of it shining through on this album.
Like I said, I will always appreciate the funkier sound on the song “Up On Cripple Creek”, sung by drummer Levon Helm, featuring Garth Hudson on clavinet. It is a song that stands out way above the rest of the content, in my opinion. Beyond that, I just don’t see myself coming back to this album for much.