If you are not familiar with the music with The Band or for some incomprehensible reason you do not own any of their music, this 2011 remastered Greatest Hits album is a good place to start. The 18 tracks were taken from their seven studio albums issued between 1968 and 1977. While one can argue that certain other tracks should have been included, what is here forms a fine representative retrospective of their career.
This is also the third time this particular album has seen the light of day. So, if you own their original albums or either of their box sets, 1994’s Across The Great Divide or 2005’s A Musical History, then this latest release may not be necessary. Originally released during 2000, the songs have now been digitally enhanced and come across as crystal clear. The important addition is the original liner notes and the accompanying booklet, which contains a 15-page essay about the history of the group and the included music.
The Band was composed of four Canadians: Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, and Garth Hudson, plus American Levon Helm. They formed as the backing band for the famous rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins, and then rose to prominence when Bob Dylan invited them to back him on his first electric tour. The year 1967 found them with Dylan in the basement of a house called Big Pink. They recorded dozens of tracks there with Dylan, but more importantly, began to develop their own unique sound, which can be best described as American rock and roots music. They released Music From Big Pink during 1968, which marked the beginning of one of rock’s legendary and critically acclaimed careers.
Music From Big Pink is an album I have visited many times during the past four decades. It is represented here by four tunes. There is the languid Bob Dylan/Richard Manuel ballad, “Tears Of Rage,” the positive vibes of “Chest Fever,” the harmonies of Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released,” and the soaring “The Weight.”
Four songs also appear from their self-titled second album. The rustic “Up On Cripple Creek,” the fun vocal by Levon Helm on “Rag Mama Rag,” the poignant Civil War epic, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” and the incisive lyrics of “King Harvest (Has Surely Come).”
Three tracks are taken from Stage Fright. The title track is propelled by Rick Danko’s vocal. “The Shape I’m In” is just an infectious romp from beginning to end. “Time To Kill” is another singer’s song as Danko and Manuel share the lead honors this time.
The last seven tracks come from four different studio albums. “Life Is A Carnival” is one of those songs that grabs you and stays with you and features some funky brass, courtesy of Allen Toussaint. “Ain’t Got No Home” was a hit for Clarence “Frogman” Henry during early 1957 and they remain true to its goofy appeal. “Acadian Driftwood” was another Robbie Robertson lyrical masterpiece.
Today, The Band is a part of music history. Rick Danko and Richard Manuel have both died, and it is doubtful if the three remaining members will ever reunite. They have left behind a wonderful legacy and catalogue of material, and Greatest Hits is a sampling of their best.
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