Stage Fright

The Band

Capitol, 1970

REVIEW BY: David Bowling


Stage Fright was The Band’s third studio album. It featured darker lyrics and textures and fewer harmonies as Robbie Robertson moved his guitar out front on many of the tracks. He wrote or co-wrote all ten songs here, providing the musical vision for the album.

The reviews for Stage Fright were less positive than for Music From Big Pink and The Band,  yet this album has held up well over the years. It contained very personal music rather than the American-based myths and legends that graced The Band’s first two releases. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Richard Manuel co-wrote two songs with Robertson and provided the lead vocals on a number of tracks. While Manuel continued to contribute to The Band’s sound, he never wrote another song. In many ways, his personal descent had started, and several of the songs contained on Stage Fright can be interpreted as chronicling the beginning of the problems that would ultimately take his life.

“Strawberry Wine” is a brilliant creation. Levon Helm provides the vocal and Garth Hudson drives the song along with his keyboards. It is lyrically a song about a drunk who wants to be left alone, yet the song comes across as a joyous romp. It was part of Robbie Robertson’s genius that he could write songs for the other members of the group on which they could shine.

“Sleeping” was co-written by Manuel. The song is about loneliness and staying out of the limelight but retains a subtle romantic underpinning. Whether this is a story about his life is unknown, but it fits in many ways. “The Rumor,” which closes out the album, features a soulful lead vocal by him. It is a wistful and poignant song which is ultimately about hope. “The Shape I’m In” features another Manuel lead vocal, but this time he is in rock mode, which is a place he would not visit enough during his career with The Band.

“Stage Fright” is a story song and can almost be considered biographical in that Robertson was never comfortable on stage. “Just Another Whistle Stop” features some of his tasty guitar chops. “The W.S. Walcott Medicine Shop” presents a slice of life on the road. “Daniel And The Sacred Harp” is another story song at which The Band was so proficient. “Time To Kill” is a straight rock song that allows his guitar playing to step forward.

Stage Fright may not have been as endearing as their first two albums, but it was still a very good and personal stop in the creation of The Band’s musical legacy.

Rating: B+

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