The Band

River North Records, 1998


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Near the end of the 30-year run of the Grateful Dead, lead guitarist/vocalist Jerry Garcia's singing sounded quite a bit like a doting grandfather, gently running (and, at times, stumbling) through the melodies old and new that made the band so endearing, even near the end.

Garcia has been gone now for three years, but the role of "grandfather" vocalist has been filled again by The Band (who, ironically, opened for the Dead on their last tour). Their latest release, Jubilation, swings like never before on the more uptempo materials, but the slower numbers are very much hit or miss.

Only three original members of The Band are still with the group; Robbie Robertson has refused to rejoin them, and keyboardist Richard Manuel committed suicide back in 1986. Of the remaining members, Rick Danko has the most "Garcia-like" vocal, with Levon Helm a close second. At times, this delivery is touching, but at other times, it seems to stand in the way of the music - and some of that doesn't even sound that original anymore. The vocal delivery and drums on the opening cut "Book Faded Brown" reminded me a lot of the song "Black Muddy River" - listen closely, and you'll hear the similarities.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Jubilation features two special guest appearances, but neither Eric Clapton nor John Hiatt make an effort to stand out in the music. Wisely, both allowed their contributions to just become part of the music - smart move. Listening to Hiatt share the vocal duties on "Bound By Love," I have no doubt that if Hiatt ever wanted to become part of The Band, he'd fit in perfectly. Clapton's guitar work on "Last Train To Memphis" isn't as noticeable, but in this case, it works to the song's advantage. Instead of sounding like a guitar virtuoso showpiece, it sounds like classic Band material.

Where Jubilation stumbles is in the slower-tempoed numbers, all of which seem to intensify the fact that this group is now on its fourth decade. "If I Should Fail" and "Don't Wait" are nice enough songs, but they seem to get bogged down from the outset. Other tracks like "High Cotton" don't have the lyrical development I would have hoped for out of a Band song, and they suffer because of this.

Still, the faster-tempoed numbers make sure that Jubilation lives up to its name. Songs like "Kentucky Downpour" and "White Cadillac" (featuring drummer Randy Ciarlante on vocals) demonstrate that even after all these years The Band have something important to say. And, from my experience of seeing The Band open for the Dead in July 1995, when they're locked in the groove of more rock-oriented numbers, their overall sound was better. (This, by the way, is not an indictment against The Band doing slower-tempoed numbers; for example, I love "The Weight".)

Overall, the sound on Jubilation is a positive one, and offers evidence that The Band is still very much a force to be dealt with. It's many years since the passing of their glory days, but Jubilation has many moments worth celebrating.

Rating: B

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© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of River North Records, and is used for informational purposes only.