Friday, June 09, 2006

"Wait A Minute, Chesterrrrrrr..."

Recently, it seems my musical tastes are stuck in the 1968-1970 timeframe. My most recent re-discovery is MUSIC FROM BIG PINK (1968), the debut album from The Band. I found this gem in a used CD bin once upon a time, probably 15 years ago or so. Good find.

What can I say about this album? Here's a good quote from Wikipedia: "With a rough sound, seemingly chaotic arrangements, and a distinctive blend of country, rock and folk, Music From Big Pink is generally considered one of the best albums by the Band, along with their 1969 sophomore release The Band. The initial critical reception of the album was generally positive, though sales were slim..."

Here's a link to a 5-star review from AllMusic Guide.

The Band consisted of Rick Danko (bass, fiddle, vocals), Levon Helm (drums, acoustic guitar, percussion, vocals), Garth Hudson (organ, piano, clavinet, soprano and tenor saxophones), Richard Manuel (piano, organ, drums, vocals), Jaime Robbie Robertson (guitars, vocals).

1. Tears of Rage - Dylan/Manuel (5:23)
2. To Kingdom Come - Robertson (3:22)
3. In a Station - Manuel (3:34)
4. Caledonia Mission - Robertson (2:59)
5. The Weight - Robertson (
6. We Can Talk - Manuel (3:06)
7. Long Black Veil - Wilkin/Dill (3:06)
8. Chest Fever - Robertson (5:18)
9. Lonesome Suzie - Manuel (4:04)
10. This Wheel's on Fire - Danko/Dylan (3:14)
11. I Shall Be Released - Dylan (3:19)

You might notice that Bob Dylan has a writing credit on 3 of the 11 songs. To my knowledge, there's no dispute regarding that fact. Now, as for Levon Helm's opinion of Robbie Robertson having sole writing credit on 4 songs...But, I'm not getting too deep into that issue here.

"Tears of Rage" is a great song. "The Weight" is one of the greatest songs ever recorded by anyone anywhere EVER (yes, I know I already said "ever" in this sentence)!!! Both of these songs made The Best Of The Band (1976), my sole piece of vinyl by these guys, which served as a great introduction to their music. I'm kind of surprised that I never went back and at least bought their second album. Anyway...

For all his hectic, squealing guitar with Bob Dylan (e.g., "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat" from Blonde On Blonde), Robbie Robertson's guitar is much more subdued here. The only song on which he even approaches that squeal might be "This Wheel's On Fire". But, that's not to say the electric guitar isn't great elsewhere. "To Kingdom Come" jumps to mind, as does "Caledonia Mission".

On Big Pink, though, I'd say the keyboards generally dominate, especially the organ (Garth Hudson, I believe). Well, and of course, there's Richard Manuel's gut-wrenching lead vocals ("Lonesome Suzie" is a great example). Oh, and the unusual harmony vocal arrangements add a unique twist ("The Weight" being a particularly good example of this, as are "To Kingdom Come" and "We Can Talk").

Lyrically, the songs are interesting as well, painting mainly rustic images. "We pointed you the way to go/And scratched your name in sand/Though you just thought it was nothing more/Than a place for you to stand" ("Tears of Rage"). "Tarred and feathered" ("To Kingdom Come"). "Once I climbed up the face of a mountain/And ate the wild fruit there/Fell asleep until the moonlight woke me/And I could taste your hair" ("In a Station"). "We'll be gone in moonshine time/I've got a place they'll never find" ("Caledonia Mission"). "But I'd rather be burned in Canada than to freeze here in the south/Pulling that eternal plough" ("We Can Talk"). "Ten years ago on a cool dark night/There was someone killed 'neath the town hall light" ("Long Black Veil").

The, there's "The Weight". Have I mentioned how amazing this song is? Here the piano and acoustic guitar dominate. I think Levon Helm sings most of the lead vocal, with Rick Danko singing lead on the amazing 4th verse (see the title of this post). Richard Manuel joins on the chorus. The harmony vocals are amazing. And, how about that moaning?! The sonic equivalent of "shit-eating" grins..."shit-eating moans"(?) That's what we used to call them sitting around the dorm room, discussing this song in college. Man, I've loved this song for a looooong time! Really, though, I'm sure the exasperation and all-around exhaustion of the storyteller in this song shines through in the lyrics (read them here). The "shit-eating grins" are on the listeners' faces...because, DAMN, this song is good!

This is a hell of an album. It was more of a critical than commercial success. But, it just flew in the face of the heavier, psychedelic rock of its day, much like its contemporary, Astral Weeks by Van Morrison. Of course, the two albums sound much different than each other. But, I'd say they're kindred spirits. Oh yeah, and I read that Bob Dylan painted the cover art for Music From Big Pink.


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