Posts Tagged ‘classc Albums’

May be art

A freshly minted reissue of The Band’s debut album, released as celebration of that record’s 50th birthday, was an absolute guarantee even before it was announced a few months’ back. It’s one of the most venerated rock records of the Woodstock era, analyzed to the level of work by Bob Dylan, the artist that this Canadian-American group backed for his first electric tours. And hearing it even today, the love for “Music From Big Pink” feels entirely justified. The Band crystallized a sound that groups like The Byrds and the Grateful Dead had been wrestling with for years: a muscular production informed by blues, soul, folk and country (a.k.a. the roots of American rock) that stayed true to all of the above genres and felt sharply original.

This new collection blows up the sound of Big Pink to THX levels via a stereo remix by beloved engineer Bob Clearmountain. To drive the point home, they’ve split the original LP up over four sides of vinyl to be played at 45 RPM. Clearmountain’s touch is surprisingly tasteful at times, emphasizing the album’s copious bottom end driven by Rick Danko’s fluttering bass lines, Levon Helm’s kick drum and the swarming organ parts played by Garth Hudson, while adding a healthy gleam to the whole thing. But when his hand gets heavy, it injects a feeling of sterility to some of the most vibrant sounds to come out of the ‘60s. And not just the strange injection of some studio chatter between a few tracks. “The Weight,” inarguably the best known song from this disc, feels pulled apart like taffy, losing much of the spirited energy of the original mix. The same goes for the two Dylan tunes (“This Wheel’s On Fire” and “I Shall Be Released”) that wrap up the album. Hudson’s clavinet interjections lose their quaint charm and become almost obnoxious and The Band sounds less like a band and more like a bunch of studio players seeking a paycheck instead of musical enlightenment.

The year 1968 is often regarded as the most turbulent time in our history as a nation. Pop culture of that year tended to reflect the rage felt by America’s youth over the developments of the day. This was well represented in the music found on albums like Electric Ladyland, Beggars Banquet, and through ground breaking musicals like Hair. But an album considered among many to be the best of the year, “Music From Big Pink”, was somehow able to indirectly capture that spirit by leveraging themes and musical concepts that are inherently “American.” This was done in a manner that was clever, thoughtful, approachably complex, and remarkably calm and measured.

Fifty years later the music found on “Big Pink” remains fresh and equally riveting. So it was only fitting that to celebrate this milestone, band member Robbie Robertson would lead a charge to use modern technologies to “revisit” the record and some of its better known outtakes. Working with legendary engineer Bob Clearmountain (Bruce Springsteen, Rolling Stones) he is about to introduce a remix that lifts the sonic quality of the record without sacrificing any of its integrity. The result is a musical experience that feels contemporary and clean with an expanded sense of dimension.

It’s been a busy year for Robbie Robertson. Just last month he auctioned off the 1965 Fender Stratocaster that he and Bob Dylan famously shared and that Robbie used on the “Big Pink”. Robbie listened in wonder as he described as only he can, how “Music From Big Pink”was put to tape and why it continues to influence scores of musicians. 

When this came out, records were still coming out in mono and stereo. And so these very definitive decisions had to be made. There was something exciting about that. Coming back to it, Clearmountain wanted to be extremely loyal to these recordings. He wasn’t interested in getting cute and putting special effects on things. He just wanted to give it more dimension and open it up in a way where you could hear more things, more detail than you ever could before. He nailed that. It was exciting all over again for me to revisit it with him.

When we went in to record “Big Pink”, we wanted to work at A&R studios in New York. That was known as the best sounding studio around and John Simon, our producer, really wanted us to work there. It had been the old Columbia Studio where some many great things were done. Phil Ramone at that time had taken it over and turned it around. So we go in and the engineers tell us where to set up and we do what they say because we want this to sound as good as it possibly can. We go into the first song and all of a sudden I have to stop everything. I said, “I’m sorry this doesn’t work for us at all.” They were like, “What do you mean? What’s wrong?” I said, “We can’t play like this. We need to see one another.” There are baffles, and I’m in one corner and he’s over there and we’re operating through headphones when we usually communicate the eye signals, and gestures, and looks. It’s a big part of our musical communication.

The first song we recorded for “Big Pink” ended up being the first song on the record, “Tears of Rage.” When I think about it now, it was a very personal thing and it’s just coming back to me now that the record company was saying, “You really want to start your record with a long slow song?” And we said “I guess, yeah!” In the studio we started to run through it a little bit and were kinda getting use to the sound in the room and the next thing John Simon says is, “Wow, I’m really liking this.” So we ran it down, we recorded it a couple of times and then John said we should come in and listen to it to see if there were any adjustments we wanted to make. We went into the control room and that was the first time we heard the sound of The Band. That was our sound. It was us for the first time witnessing it. We had made lots of music with Bob Dylan and with The Hawks. But this was a whole different flavour. 

To do a song like “Key to the Highway” and it not be a shuffle was almost illegal. We took it and turned it inside out. It was something that I was feeling at the time. I said to Levon (Helm), “How does this feel to you?” And I played the rhythm in the way we did it for him. He said, “Man, let’s give it a shot!” But we were quite aware of some blues enthusiasts who thought that doing in that way with that boldness was almost a sacrilege and I like that!

That record, “Music From Big Pink”, was like rebelling against the rebellion, and the rebellion was this loud psychedelia, everything on 11. This was about going the opposite direction and trying to get just as much emotion out of the music as possible.

May be an image of 5 people and text