The Band – The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
I got this CD for $5 brand new, and have enjoyed it several times already. This trip through was no different. I was surprised, then, that it’s really just a re-editing of the Rock Of Ages set (which I don’t own = oversiiiiight!). If this is true, this disc is just a cash-grab by the label. At least, that’s what the internets told me, and we all trust everything the internets has to say! But do I care, really? Nope (or at least not until I get RoA!). The music here is great (I loved the trumpets in the title track!), and the song selection and sound quality is excellent. Perfectly fine for my $5.
Barstool Prophets – Crank
Here’s a blast from the mid-90s. I was surprised to find this one still in my collection, honestly. I know for sure I would have kept it for Little Death (Oh Mary Mary), such a cool song, but the rest of this CD turned out to be quite tight, highly enjoyable rock music. It has very big sound, and the songs are very well-done. This was a great find, I really enjoyed hearing it again. I played this one a lot, in the mid-90s, so it’s rediscovering an old friend, for me now!
Ani Difranco & Utah Phillips – The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere*
Can I even begin to express how cool this CD is? And lucky thing, too, because this sort of thing could equally have gone into suckage territory – pairing music with old tapes of an old man speaking? Dicey! But this is Ani we’re talking about, and she has yet do anything even mediocre. And Phillips seems the right mix of ornery and intelligent to be a remarkable storyteller. Even the looping of his voice is OK, as it drives points home. So many great quotes here, like “…the path of least resistance is what makes the river crooked!’ There’s plenty here that’s heartfelt, poignant and, yes, wrenching too, as you get pulled effortlessly along. The music is fanastic (of course). The whole thing is a clear-eyed and brilliant master stroke. I can’t recommend this enough.
* Purchased during the 2014 trip to Toronto with Mike. There’s a second volume to this collaboration, called Fellow Workers. I do not own it currently, but listening back to this one again made me want it!
Already with this New Year system, I’ve heard a lot of records over the past few days and it has been an awesome time! The music’s playing fairly non-stop, and my head’s a-buzzin’ with all the goodness!
But next up in my list came the Band, and I decided that, since it was a Sunday listening session, I would leave it to them and keep it pure. After all of this, I didn’t want to dilute them with anything else.
The Band – Music From Big Pink*
The Band – The Band*
I cannot add meaningfully to the decades of slobbering scholarship and jibbering fandom that has grown up around this band, and these two records, so I won’t even try. I’ve started countless descriptive sentences, only to delete all of them because they are all understatement. It may seem like a cop-out to write-up these two albums in such a short, fairly uninformative paragraph, but listening through these two CDs today, with all bonus tracks as well, I was struck with only the thought that the love, admiration and adoration accorded these records is utterly, unquestionably justified. ESSENTIAL.
* My versions came as a 2CD set with bonus tracks, as pictured below, and for only about $10. I know!
I love The Band (who doesn’t?), and I also like some of the artists who contributed tracks to this tribute, so of course I bought it. Would I be pleased with this compilation, indifferent, or disappointed? Find out next, in this exciting episode of… The KMA!
Guster tackles This Wheel’s On Fire with a beautiful, shambling rendition. Ray Montagne sits in on harmonica. Bruce Hornsby (now there’s a name I haven’t heard in a coon’s age) and a band called the Noisemakers (did the Range go… out of range?) step up to King Harvest. A decent track musically, though the vocals seem thin… could just be me (and it’s a damn sight better than I could muster anyway). My Morning Jacket offers up a truly lovely, soaring It Makes No Difference. Just like you know they ought to.
Jack Johnson is one of the main reasons I bought this CD. Him doing I Shall Be Released seems too good to be true. Well, the Animal Liberation Orchestra joins in and it’s a respectful rendition. The song’s definitely recognizable and the original comes clearly to mind, while their slightly chunky funky approach makes it their song too. As could only happen on a compilation like this, Lee Ann Womack is the next artist, with her version of The Weight. It’s OK, but not great. All deference to Buddy and Julie Miller on backing vocals, but your twang thing is just not my bag. I’m sure others will love it. The song plods along and Womack does her best y’alternative vocals too. For a female singer’s version that rules, dig into Aretha’s catalogue for her soulful take. Now that’s sweet.
Anyway, Widespread Panic’s Chest Fever is a fuzzy stoner freakout, a soul song (with horn section), a New Orleans funeral dirge and a stomping rocker (with cowbell), all in one. Nice! Then, Gomez’ Up On Cripple Creek is, like the original, suitably funky and grooving. The Allman Brothers Band throws down a really great live version of The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. Perfect band for this tune. Steve Reynolds is a label artist for the makers of this comp, and his take on Stage Fright is cool, but it kept reminding me of other artists. The vocals were like David Gray or Paddy Casey (not that that’s a bad thing), and the cello immediately brought the Barenaked Ladies’ cover of Cockburn’s Lovers In A Dangerous Time to mind. The acoustic guitar work is excellent, here.
And man, Blues Traveler. There’s another band I haven’t thought of since their record Four (that’d be a while ago, now). Well, their Rag Mama Rag is a piano-driven keeper – the work on the ivories here is truly stellar. Popper hasn’t learned his lesson and is still playing way too many notes on the harmonica when he solos, but if we’re surprised by that, anything would surprise us. A good track in spite of that. Jakob Dylan and Lizz Wright’s Whispering Pines is pure middle of the road. Wright doesn’t even show up until it’s two-thirds over and her vocals don’t stand out either. Nice song, not a stand out in this mix, though.
I had to look up The Roches to find out who they are. Their harmonies are lovely. Their odd mix of twang and Irish-ness makes for an interesting Acadian Driftwood, to be sure. Not certain that I’ll need to play it often, but it was good for these purposes. Roseanne Cash’s Unfaithful Servant is actually pretty good – I don’t mean to sound surprised. It’s a credible version of a song that, to me, has always taken a good idea and gone on too long. Oh well. Josh Turner’s When I Paint My Masterpiece is built for y’alternative country radio. Not my thing (again), but so be it.
Trevor Hall’s Life Is A Carnival sounds like he had a cold and gave up enunciating when he recorded it. If that’s his usual vocal delivery, I surely don’t need to hear too much of him in my life. The version itself sounds like a poor man’s Dave Matthews Band (without the instrumental virtuosity). Not a keeper. Jackie Greene, another label artist, takes on Look Out Cleveland. The piano stands out here, the rest is less homage and more note-perfect emulation of that Band sound. Why bother? Good covers stay true but give the new band room to move and sound like themselves, too. And finally, Death Cab For Cutie’s Rockin’ Chair is listenable. It’s the slow song tacked onto the end of the disc, sure. The vocals didn’t do much for me, sure. But it’s still a fairly sweet way to end the disc.
So, in sum? I liked this disc well enough, but I really wanted to like it more. There were definitely some songs that I will skip when they come up, but that’s true of any of these attempts at re-making the genius of an iconic band’s output as a tribute. I’d recommend it, if you’re curious. Of course, you should own all the Band records first. That’s where it’s at. But you’re savvy and already knew that.
You know, it’s a shame the Rheostatics aren’t still making music together. OK, so I know I say that frequently to anyone who will listen on any given day, but their sound and energy would have been an excellent addition to this compilation. And I’ll bet they’d have been up for the opportunity, too.
Also, Gin Blossoms are listed on the roster for this label. Why aren’t they on this disc? I love those guys.
Here’s another batch…
James – Hey Ma
Everybody remembers Laid, but James has been around a long time and always makes really cool music when they’re at it. Hey Ma is full of captivating pop beauty, currently-relevant lyrics and uplifting musical generosity. This one should be huge. Get it.
Scott Weiland – Happy In Galoshes
Whatever troubles Weiland has had in his personal life, the fact remains that the man can write a catchy tune between benders, whether it’s for STP, VR or these sporadic solo efforts. This one has a lot of good single moments here and there, even an appropriate Bowie cover, but sadly this album is too scattered to be satisfying.
The Band – The Last Waltz
We watched this amazing film with friends on New Year’s Eve, which could easily become a tradition for me. So many phenomenal artists, so much beautiful music, one unbelievable concert. Truly a show you hope will never end. Forget our plastic culture’s mindless numbness to superlative – this one’s a true classic.
Bruce Springsteen – Working On A Dream
The Boss can still show off that carnival swirl of the old days, and lately he’s nurturing the good sense to slow things down more often. This record’s what you’d expect, actually. There are the inevitable dud tracks (Outlaw Pete, Queen Of The Supermarket), but the rest is solid Springsteen.
Serena Ryder – Is It OK
This artist only grows stronger with each new release, and she was bloody strong to begin with, as you know already. Her growing confidence lends pure power to her every move. Even better, there’s still that raw edge in her approach, which I’ve always found totally appealing. Each song here could be a single. I really, really liked this.