Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Album of the Day #133: MUSIC FROM BIG PINK - The Band

Title: Music From Big Pink
Artist: The Band
Label: Capitol
Year: 1968
Songs: Tears Of Rage [Bob Dylan & Richard Manuel]/To Kingdom Come [Jaime Robbie Robertson]/In A Station [Richard Manuel]/Caledonia Mission [Jaime Robbie Robertson]/The Weight [Jaime Robbie Robertson]/We Can Talk [Richard Manuel]/Long Black Veil [Danny Dill & Marijohn Wilkin]/Chest Fever [Jaime Robbie Robertson]/Lonesome Suzie [Richard Manuel]/This Wheel's On Fire [Bob Dylan & Rick Danko]/I Shall Be Released [Bob Dylan]
Produced by: John Simon
Thoughts: Maybe it does feel like half of it was recorded out of a jam session, but songs like "The Weight" and "Chest Fever" are far too intricate to have been recorded on the fly.
I guess the reason why I bought this album was because I figured it was the next step after finishing Dylan's catalog. I decided that if there was one band that I needed to familiarize myself with it was The Band, because they had been such an integral part of Dylan's own history.
While Dylan's presence is felt merely in the writing process of just three songs, it really is shocking how the albums that came out of the basement tapes have almost nothing to do with them. John Wesley Harding hardly has a whiff of the basement tapes, while Music From Big Pink, though named after the house from which they originated from, the final product bares utterly no resemblance to the tapes. (I obviously need to hear more of them, though...I've been holding out on getting the official Columbia release, which is the next thing on my list.)
There's a large amount of odd feelings that I got when I first listened to Music From Big Pink. I mean, the album opens with the slow, tear-jerking ballad, "Tears Of Rage". This immediately sends you the signal that not only is this album different, but, man, Richard Manuel is one hell of a singer. Tacked at the end of the album are the final two Dylan compositions, "This Wheel's On Fire" (written with Danko) and "I Shall Be Released". Both songs are breathtaking, and Manuel's falsetto on "I Shall Be Released" is so perfect, that it even Dylan's own acoustic version (on Greatest Hits, Vol. II) pales in comparison to it.
The original songs in-between, plus the cover of "Long Black Veil", had to be just as good as the Dylan material. While "Celedonia Mission" and "To Kingdome Come" might not be as strong as Dylan's songs, the rest of the album is up to that high bar. I can talk about how awesome "The Weight" is forever. Even though it feels a little strange (especially Garth Hudson's Bach-influended opening and the out-of-tune Navy band that comes in half-way thorough) there is a certain greatness of "Chest Fever" I also love "Lonesome Suzie". Manuel gives another rediculous, hearfelt vocal on this ballad. Overall, this has to be one album that one should not live without.

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