Tuesday, 28 August 2018
The Band - Music From Big Pink (1968)
Released July 1968
Recorded at "Big Pink", New York State
Bob Dylan's backing band finally turned into their own entity for this, their debut album. They hadn't quite gone full-on with the nineteenth-century sharecropper look for this album, but they are getting there, certainly lyrically.
As would characterise their subsequent work, all five members - Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm and Richard Manuel interacted superbly, both musically and vocally, giving the album a sort of "almost live" feel, as if it were an ad hoc jam in some ways. Lyrically, it wasn't quite as nineteenth century as the next album would be, there were still some hippy-era remnants of airy, trippy lyrics, such as on "In A Station" - about climbing mountains and eating wild fruit. There are still moments of lyrics concentrating on rural life and family values, however, which would provide a pointer to the future.
"Tears Of Rage", co-written with Dylan, is a rousing opener, with a bluesy sound and some great guitar, while "To Kingdom Come" had an impressive drum rhythm and another blues-influenced rock sound. "In A Station" begins with a sort of medieval keyboard sound, and there are definite psychedelic hints in the bass sound. The album still very much reflects the turmoil of the late sixties far more than the next album, "The Band" did, which was far more nostalgic for life a hundred years earlier and dipped into "Americana" a lot more. "Caledonia Mission" has echoes of Dylan's "wild mercury sound" from "Blonde On Blonde" in its cymbal sound. As with all The Band's early work, Elton John's seventies material was so influenced by it, both musically and lyrically.
Then there is "The Weight", still the group's most famous song. This is where the imagery of the old rural mid-West and the Americana thing really kicks in. It is a great country-ish piece of rock blues. What was it about? Who were the characters? Fanny, Anna Lee, Crazy Chester and so on. Who knows, it was all highly evocative, though. "We Can Talk" begins with some churchy organ and continues into an upbeat rock number that surely was the inspiration for many similar seventies rock numbers. It reminds me of so many things, yet I can't put my finger on what they are - Free? Early Rod Stewart? The Faces? Elton John? Maybe all of them.
"Long Black Veil" is a slow paced, mournful, country blues with some similar vocal harmonies to "The Weight". "Chest Fever" begins with some madcap Deep Purple-esque psychedelic organ before it launches into a slow burning, bassy, rhythmic, pumping blues rocker. It is one of their most "1968" songs on the album. The organ sound is most foreboding, like something out of a Vincent Price horror movie. "Lonesome Suzie" is a plaintive, sensitive organ-driven ballad and then we get a couple of well-known Dylan compositions - "This Wheel's On Fire" and "I Shall Be Released". The former is a guitar-led atmospheric number that charted for Julie Driscoll and The Brian Auger Trinity who turned it into something far ore psychedelic than its is here. The latter is a wonderful, hooky lament from an unfairly jailed prisoner. It has been covered by many artists subsequently. My favourite, is by The Tom Robinson Band in 1978. It also has a keyboard sound reminiscent of Them's cover of Dylan's "It's All Over Now Baby Blue".
"Yazoo Street Scandal" is a rocking, rhythmic, organ riffy number to close the set. It is the most rocky track on the album. For some reason, in the verses, I get hints of U2's "Bullet The Blue Sky" in there somewhere. The influences of The Band on many other groups are manifold. The their next album, this was an influential, ground-breaking piece of work.