Sunday, October 14, 2007

THE REVIEW CORNER -- The Band: A Musical History box set is the "dark horse" cornerstone to any rock collection. 2005 issue, Capitol Records.

I recently picked up this 5 CD /1 DVD career-spanning set from the local library, and I have to say I'm definitely impressed. I plan on owning it for myself someday.

Until recently, this rock "band" was mostly a mystery to me---sorta like the shadowy figures of THE BAND depicted on the cover of this handsome box set (the hardcover "music book" that you see here to the left). Over 100 pages of stories, rare photos, and anecdotes are included along with the 6 discs nestled nicely in pages at the rear... gives it an old family photo album sort of feel.

Gracing us with perhaps the simplest name in rock history, THE BAND even predated the Beatles in an early incarnation known at The Hawks. Comprising of Canadians and Americans, the changed and final name you know them by today came from the time that they backed Dylan on his tours in the mid-60s. At that time Dylan was billed as "Dylan and the band," so afterwards the name stuck.

They didn't last long, disbanding in 1976 due to internal conflicts over songwriting credits; Robbie Robertson (lead guitarist) I guess decided to take all the credit. From what I can gather, it seems like an unfair maneuver of an egomaniac; as many of the other members were stated as having contributed to the music if not the overall songwriting process. This fact is only proven in the DVD, which shows the band at a pink house in Woodstock, New York (not the actual music festival) "woodshedding" to craft their sound. Hence, the name of their debut album, which we'll get to in a second...

Listening to their sound, one can tell that more than just Robertson contributed to it. It's one of those situations in which they were definitely greater than the sum of their parts.

...and for what it's worth, these guys are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They were one of its first inductees, going in in 1994.

These guys are very rootsy, salt-of-the-earth and unpolished---which acutally is very refreshing. They're like a can of soup, as I hear lots of elements fused together when I put these guys on. I hear a hodge-podge of the blues, rockabilly, country, folk, gospel, soul, funk, southern roots, psychadelia, a little jazz, and I even heard some ragtime piano somewhere in there. They also sport 3 singers; my personal favorite being the bass player Rick Danko, who died just before the turn of the new millennium in December 1999. I also totally dig their keyboard /organ player Garth Hudson---if you get your hands on the box set, check out "The Genetic Method" (live) on CD 4---noodling on that funky Lowrey Organ. Ohhhh yeahhh.

Check out their site The Band, or just check them out at your local library if you're curious. If you go for individual albums, the big 3 by them would be their first album Music from Big Pink (with the famous abstract album cover painted by Bob Dylan, pictured to the left), their eponymous second album The Band, and the album showcasing their final live performance in 1976, The Last Waltz (available in both 2 CD versions and a 4 CD deluxe edition set)... and of course the career-spanning box set shown at the top of this post, which makes for a handsome "music book" if you will on your shelf. All their old albums have been digitally remastered for optimal sound quality. The latter live classic has guest performances by several folks including Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and Neil Young.

THE BAND were more popular with journalists and fellow musicians than the general public. Their talent, virtuosity, and the multi-instrumental abilities of the individual members cannot be denied.

However, unless someone had an older sibling to dial them in, it's understandable how anyone
born after the mid-1960s would fail to have this rock group on their radar. I consider myself quite a music buff, and an armchair historian to boot---and it basically took me until now to check these guys out. I'm puzzled as to why they never made much more of an impression; I'm guessing much of it had to do with their short successful run, their grassroots sound, and the fact that they're mainly resigned to the 1960 and 1970s.

You probably know the song "The Weight" from the radio---but that's about all you'll hear these days of THE BAND on the airwaves---at least in my experience... Maybe "Stage Fright," "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," "Don't Do it," or "Life is a Carnival"---but I can't conjure up a radio memory of those latter songs.

They're definitely a throwback. They wouldn't really appeal to a youngster growing up in the 70s as much as more in-your-face bands like Kiss, Aerosmith, or David Bowie. You have to dig a little deeper to discover these guys---plus in my opinion their name throws off many folks today and puts them in the position of getting dismissed more than they should.

When you first hear them, they may remind many of you of a Saturday Night Live house band---probably because they played in the mid-70s on the show---and I'm guessing the show modeled their house band after THE BAND, something that continues to this day (or at least they still attempt to, in a cheesier and more bastardized fashion).

That is in no way a dig to THE BAND, as they were true originals.

Anyone who likes "southern rock" should definitely take to these guys... I hear where Skynyrd got some ideas, and I hear some Phish... and newer bands like My Morning Jacket... but they're sound goes way beyond that.

Don't make the same mistake I made by dismissing them and waiting to check them out---they're worth your time. Put something by them on your holiday wish list.

I give A Musical History by The Band 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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