Music From Big Pink
Capitol Records, 1968
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/14/1999
As I wander the halls of the Pierce Memorial Archives, I can't help but sometimes wonder why it's taken me so long to get to certain albums - or, for that matter, certain groups - here on "The Daily Vault". It's not that I don't want to give these albums their due, it's just that something always seems to come up and they get shelved for another indefinite period of time.
Such was the case with Music From Big Pink, the debut release from The Band. I had this record scheduled for review several times over the past 12 months, but I always seemed to get distracted, or I just didn't find myself in the mood to listen to the stylings of Robbie Robertson and crew. To be honest, this record would still be on the shelves had it not been for the death of bassist/vocalist Rick Danko on December 10; that was the kick in the ass I needed to sit down with this album and to give it a good, long listen.
At the time of its release, both the album and the group were kind of an enigma. Sure, they were known as a group that backed Bob Dylan at times (and would later tour with him), but who were these guys? I mean, the record jacket didn't even list a group name anywhere on the sleeve or on the label; only on later releases like the CD would the name of the group finally appear.
The biggest difficulty with Music From Big Pink is that it assumes not only that you're familiar with Dylan's music, but that you have almost a fanatical devotion to it at times. Granted, only three of the songs on the album were written, at least in part, by Dylan. But the whole vibe of the album is kind of Dylan-esque, and I really didn't warm up to this album until recently - around the same time I started listening to Dylan heavily.
The classics on Music From Big Pink cannot be denied; "The Weight" is still an incredible track, even if I can't quite follow the story in the song. Likewise, tracks like "Chest Fever," "This Wheel's On Fire" and "Tears Of Rage," albeit lesser-known songs, are just as worthy of your attention. In fact, it was kind of weird to put this album on the turntable and hear Danko kick things off with "Tears Of Rage".
This isn't to say that everything on Music From Big Pink is to crow about. The album still drags at the start, no matter how many times I listen to it. Both "To Kingdom Come" and "In A Station" fail to inspire; this could be why I always found it difficult to get through this album in the past. It's not until "Caledonia Mission" kicks in that things start to really look up - and from there, it does seem like The Band can do little wrong.
Music From Big Pink is the logical place to start your education on The Band if you want to get past the "best-of" compilations. It is a bit of a rough road at the start, but if you put in some time and patience, the journey proves to be well worth the effort.