The BAND – ” The Band ” Released 22nd September 1969

Posted: September 22, 2016 in ALBUMS, MUSIC
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Maybe it’s difficult to overstate the contributions to modern day music that began with a group of five young men with no clear frontman. But the Band  which released its eponymous masterpiece 46 years ago this week — brought a swollen heart and a down-home groove to the rock n’ roll landscape that was unprecedented at its time. Not that surprising, considering the group was referred to as “the best damn band in the world” before they even settled on a name. The Band is the eponymous second studio album by The Band, released on September 22nd, 1969. It is also known as The Brown Album. According to Rob Bowman’s liner notes for the 2000 reissue, The Band has been viewed as a concept album, with the songs focusing on people, places and traditions associated with an older version of Americana. Thus, the songs on this album draw from historic themes for “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”, “King Harvest (Has Surely Come)” and Richard Manuel’s “Jawbone” (which was composed in the unusual 6/4 time signature.)

In the mid-sixties, four rag-tag kids from Canada were lured to the open road by Rockabilly legend Ronnie Hawkins and his teenage drummer, Levon Helm. Unlike the rest of his bandmates, Helm was the son of a cotton farmer from Turkey Scratch, Arkansas and brought the authenticity of Delta blues with him wherever he went.

He was eventually recognized by fans and friends alike as the heart of the group’s sound, sharing vocal responsibilities with bassist Rick Danko and multi-instrumentalist Richard Manuel. But it was Helm who took the reins in four of the songs on that self-titled release with his signature country drawl. Two of those songs became timeless Band favorites- “Up on Cripple Creek” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” a hypothetical civil war tune overflowing with classic Americana.

It is a remarkable song, the rhythmic structure, the voice of Levon and the bass line with the drum accents and then the heavy close harmony of Levon, Rick and Richard Manuel in the theme, make it seem impossible that this isn’t some oral tradition material handed down from father to son straight from that winter of ’65 to today.

… I kept coming back and coming back until now I am prepared to say that, depending on one’s mood, these songs stand, each on its own, as equal sides of a twelve-faceted gem .

Just a month before its release, the Band took to the stage at Woodstock on the final night of the three-day festival, playing seven songs from their 1968 studio debut, Music From Big Pink. Along with generally favored reviews, this earlier record fell flat with certain critics, The album which would eventually be referred to adoringly as The Brown Album.

[The Beatles’] Abbey Road captivates me as might be expected, but The Band is even better, an A-plus record if I’ve ever rated one. That should come as no surprise to those of you — which I assume means most of you — who regarded Music From Big Pink as epochal. Though I somehow always managed to avoid saying so in print, I didn’t.

Except for Dylan, [guitarist Robbie Robertson] is the only American songwriter to write good fictional/dramatic songs… and the only one to master the semi-literate tone, in which grammatical barbarisms and colloquial ellipses transcend affectation to enrich and qualify a song’s meaning.

Months before recording the LP, Robertson, the group’s primary songwriter, had no idea just how iconic their work would become. Robbie was asked how seriously the group took their craft.

“Just seriously enough to satisfy us, enough so that we can smile at one another when we’re through playing.”

And you can feel it; that satisfaction especially in these songs. The musicianship between all five members on the album is electric, heartfelt, and casual. With the ping of every ride pattern, you can practically sense Helm’s broad, boyish grin behind that drum kit.

The Band released five more albums with the same lineup before Robertson’s departure, taking an overwhelming majority of disputed songwriting credits with him — an issue that left some of the remaining members bitter for decades. None of those records would come close to the success of The Brown Album.

Apart from several other best of all time lists, The Brown Album has became a national treasure. It was added to the National Recording Registry in 2009, deemed “culturally, historically, and aesthetically important,” and it “informed or reflected life in the United States.”

Not bad for a few Canadian boys and a dusty farmer.

LEVON HELM

After unsuccessfully attempting sessions at a studio in New York, The Band set up shop in the pool house of a home the group rented in West Hollywood. The home, located at 8850 Evanview Drive, was once owned by Judy Garland, Wally Cox and, at the time the group worked there, Sammy Davis, Jr. According to Robbie Robertson, the location was chosen to give the songs a more Basement Tapes-like feel in what was termed “a clubhouse concept.” Work was later completed at The Hit Factory in New York City.

The album was also reissued in 2009 by Audio Fidelity as a limited edition gold CD. Remastered from a 1980s CD pressing, the album also included a single b-side “Get Up Jake” as a bonus track. originally it was dropped from the line-up at the last minute, either because the band felt it was too similar to another track on the album, or because there physically wasn’t enough room on the album.

The album includes many of The Band’s best-known and critically acclaimed songs,  In 1998 Q magazine readers voted The Band the 76th greatest album of all time. Upon hearing the record one critic declared it better than Abbey Road, which had been released four days following, writing that The Band’s LP is an “A-plus record if I’ve ever rated one.” He ranked it as the fourth best album of the year in his ballot for Jazz & Pop magazine’s annual critics poll.

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