Friday, March 2, 2007

Five Best...The Band Albums (#2)

#2. Music from Big Pink

-Not only is it a great Band album, it’s also one of the best debut albums of all-time. But that list is for another time. Released in July of 1968, Music from Big Pink would never reach the chart sales it should have (it’d only peak at #30) but its influence would be felt from artists ranging from Eric Clapton to My Morning Jacket.

The album begins with possibly its finest song, “Tears of Rage.” This track, co-written by Richard Manuel and Bob Dylan, was originally a Basement Tapes-era song but this version would supply the emotional output that one never could reach. Manuel’s voice is perfect for the song when he sings lines like, “We’re so alone/And life is brief.”

“To Kingdom Come” and “In a Station” are both slightly forgettable but the album wouldn’t be the same without them. After all, not every track can be as good as “Tears of Rage” or “The Weight.”

I can’t quite put my finger on why I like “Caledonia Mission” so much but I guess The Band’s “magic might be real.” This song also some of the best vocal work on the album.

Beginning with the next track, the rest of the album is simply magnificent.

There’s a reason why “The Weight” is The Band’s most well known song; Levon and Rick sound perfect while the piano work of Manuel is actually quite inspired. It’s also some of Robbie’s finest lyrics.

The next track, “We Can Talk,” is one of my favorite Band songs and also features one of my favorite misheard lyrics. When Levon sings, “But did ya ever milk the cow?,” I always thought it was, “Did Nietzsche ever milk the cow?” Frankly, I like mine better. I’m also quite fond of, “I’m afraid if you ever got a pat on your back/ It would likely burst your lungs” and “But I’d rather be burned in Canada/Than to freeze here in the South.”

It seems like you can’t consider yourself a true musician until you’ve done a version of “Long Black Veil.” Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Joan Baez, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Burl Ives, The Kingston Trio, The Chieftains, Lefty Frizzell, Mickey Nesmith (!), Dave Matthews Band, The Stanley Brothers, Jerry Garcia and, of course, The Band have performed this song by Danny Dill and Marijohn Wilkin.

Want to scare the bejesus of some poor kid next Halloween? Play Garth’s opening organ solo on “Chest Fever.” I can remember the first time I heard it and how mesmerized and terrified of it I was. And now, it’s one of my favorites.

“Lonesome Suzie” is a good song and necessary for the album but there’s something about that doesn’t do it for me. Maybe it’s a little too whiny? My loss, I suppose.

The album ends with two songs that Dylan had a hand in writing, “This Wheel’s on Fire” and “I Shall Be Released.” In each of these cases, I feel they’re better at The Last Waltz but they’re still both classics, especially “This Wheel’s on Fire.” I mean, try saying the phrase “If my memory serves me well” without adding, “Wheel’s on fire, rolling down the road!” And yes, it is “your memory” instead of “my memory,” but those are just semantics. As for “I Shall Be Released,” it’s a song I respect more for what it is than how much I actually like it.

It’s sad that The Band could only capture an album as great as this one more time but at least we have this musical document to listen to. I know for me, it’s an album that I feel comfortable listening to; as if it’s all mine and no one else has ever discovered its majesty. But that doesn’t mean I won’t spread its gospel around.

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