Come Hear the Band
It's as if an itinerant old-time medicine show somehow skipped a few generations, pulled off a two-lane Arkansas highway in 1910, and woke up in 1968, with its remaining potions turned to hallucinogens. Of course the time travelers had stories to tell—about the wily old South, where men with names like Virgil and Eustace tended the land, and there was pride just in surviving.
Four Canadians and one Southern "ringer" (drummer Levon Helm, who grew up in Arkansas), the Band caught what was wild and romantic about America, and framed it in ramshackle grandeur with a touch of a hippieera batik. The musicians first played together backing rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins, but became cohesive backing Bob Dylan during his shift from acoustic folk to rock. When the Band moved out of the Big Pink house in Woodstock, New York, the group of talented multi-instrumentalists discovered they had something different, but no less profound, to say on their own. That's instantly evident in the story-songs on their first album, Music from Big Pink, and this masterpiece—a one-two punch the likes of which rock and roll hasn't seen since.
Just the titles from this record suggest Southern Gothic stories: "Up on Cripple Creek." "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" (Joan Baez's biggest hit). "Across the Great Divide." "King Harvest (Has Surely Come)," a hymn about trade unionism. When Robbie Robertson's considered guitar quips and the "barrelhouse" piano of Richard Manuel are added to the swampy yarns, the result is a glimpse into a mythic rural America that may or may not have existed. It's a place where accordions wheeze soft and low and honest voices gather into a ragged choir of the devoted, singing just for the communal joy of it.
Released: 1969, Capitol (Reissued 2000)
Key Tracks: All of them.
Catalog Choice: Music from Big Pink
Next Stop: Tom Waits: Foreign Affairs
After That: The Grateful Dead: Workingman's Dead
Book Page: 44
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Levon Helm, 1940-2012 - April 20, 2012 at 6:32 pm
#1 from Francisco Stoll - 11/30/2008 1:12
this is such a great album, i love the way levon helm sings, i was wondering if you could recommend any of his own recordings that might be in the same vein as this album. I know he has a lot, so i’m a bit overwhelmed. Thanks
#2 from Adam Herbst, New Jersey - 12/06/2008 10:53
Never fails to amaze me how a bunch of rockabilly sidemen picked up in Canada (Canada?) ended up being the band.
Bunch of other next points could be Harry
Smith (never fail to site the Bible), Wilco, and the early Elvises - both Presley and Costello.