Tuesday, 10 May 2016

"Music From Big Pink" by THE BAND (2000 Capitol 'Expanded Edition' CD Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...





"...To Kingdom Come..."

It's a measure of The Band's musical impact that their debut album hit the shelves of American record stores 1 July 1968 and by the late August issue of the hugely influential Rolling Stone magazine (26 August 1968, Al Kooper's famous article) - they were already on the front cover. There they sat on a park-bench with their backs to us - come to bring us all back to real tunes - looking like ramshackle woodsmen-extras returned from the set of John Boorman's "Deliverance". And it helped of course that the original Americana troubadour Bob Dylan was a pal, painted the cover art and contributed the occasional song classic too...

Capitol took their time with this superbly presented 'Expanded Edition' CD of "Music From Big Pink" and has stoked up the Stereo release with a slew of half-decent extras actually worthy of the moniker 'Bonus Tracks'. Here are the weighty details...

UK released September 2000 (August 2000 in the USA) - "Music From Big Pink" by THE BAND is an 'Expanded Edition' CD Reissue/Remaster on Capitol 525 3902 (Barcode 724352539024) and plays out as follows (74:03 minutes):

1. Tears Of Rage
2. To Kingdom Come
3. In A Station
4. Caledonia Mission
5. The Weight
6. We Can Talk [Side 2]
7. Long Black Veil
8. Chest Fever
9. Lonesome Suzie
10. This Wheel's On Fire
11. I Shall Be Released
Tracks 1 to 11 are their debut album "Music From Big Pink" - released July 1968 in the USA on Capitol Records SKAO-2955 and November 1968 in the UK on Capitol Records T 2955 (Mono) and Capitol ST 2955 (Stereo). The American STEREO Mix is used. Robbie Robertson wrote "To Kingdom Come", "Caledonia Mission", "The Weight" and "Chest Fever" - Richard Manuel wrote "In A Station", "We Can talk" and "Lonesome Suzie and co-wrote "Tears Of Rage" with BOB DYLAN - Dylan wrote "I Shall Be Released" and co-wrote "This Wheel's On Fire" with Rick Danko. "Long Black Veil" is a Marijohn Wilkin and Danny Dill song made famous by Country Artists Lefty Frizzell and Johnny Cash. JOHN SIMON Produced.

BONUS TRACKS:
12. Yazoo Street Scandal (Outtake)
13. Tears Of Rage (Alternate Take)
14. Katie's Been Gone (Outtake)
15. If I Lose (Outtake)
16. Long Distance Operator (Outtake)
17. Lonesome Suzie (Alternate Take)
18. Orange Juice Blues (Blues For Breakfast) (Outtake – Demo)
19. Key To The Highway (Outtake)
20. Ferdinand The Imposter (Outtake – Demo)

THE BAND was:
GARTH HUDSON – Organ and Vocals
RICHARD MANUEL – Piano and Lead Vocals on Tracks 1, 2, 3, 6, 8, 9 and 11
ROBBIE ROBERTSON – Lead Guitar and Duet Vocals with Manuel on Track 2
RICK DANKO – Bass and Lead Vocals on Tracks 4, 7, and 10
LEVON HELM – Drums and Lead Vocals on Track 5 a duet with Danko

Compiled by Cheryl Pawelski and Andrew Sandoval - the 20-page booklet has fantastically comprehensive liner notes by ROB BOWMAN that feature interviews stretching back twelve years (from 2000), photos of tracking sheets, mix instructions, the American 45 of "The Weight" on Capitol 2269, trade adverts, the Rolling Stone cover, outtake photos from the session, a Winterland Poster - and snaps of the home ‘Big Pink’ where most of the music was composed. It's very well done as befits an album of this stature.

But the big news is a great remaster by DAN HERSCH and ANDREW SANDOVAL. Notoriously far removed from 'audiophile' territory – the album was recorded in a real-instruments/naturalistic feel kind of way. So some tunes like "I Shall Be Released" and "Long Black Veil" have audible hiss levels but you’d have to say that this remaster allows the whole lot to 'breathe' – no dampening nor tampering. On tracks like the wicked keyboard extravaganza that is "Chest Fever" or Manuel's old-as-mountains "In A Station" - the natural feel is thrilling - given space to shine.

It opens with the decidedly edgy "Tears Of Rage" - a slow opener that's all treated guitar and croaked vocals about 'Independence Day' and a father not 'getting it'. Even after all these years I still find the brass arrangements and that huge organ sound in the background so moving - while Robertson pings away on those frets as only he can. We up the pace for "To Kingdom Come" - a catchy little mutt that bears repeated listening as he sings of being 'tarred and feathered'. I loved what Karen Dalton did with Manuel's "In A Station" on her "In My Own Time" album of cover version in 1971 on Just Sunshine Records (see separate review). You can hear why she was drawn to its gravel heart - slightly off rhythms and production values - yet still full of heart. Both of Robertson's Side 1 finishers "California Mission" and "The Weight" practically defined The Band sound from the outset. On Side 2 I like the strange funkiness of "This Wheel's On Fire" but my crave is the heavy and wild keyboard soloing throughout “Chest Fever”. It's so at odds with the rest of the record - yet it fits. "Chest Fever" could even be an ELP rehearsal – an Atomic Rooster jam – it's the kind of rock song you don't really expect from The Band - brilliantly hooky yet ramshackle enough to remain real. "Chest..." is followed by Levon's aching set of pipes on "Lonesome Suzie" – a slow drawl of a song – and a tune that cries out to be covered - tap into the melody's innate Soulfulness.

I had expected the Extras to be largely filler - and some are rough ("If I Lose", "Orange Juice Blues" and "Ferdinand The Imposter" are taken from 'best available sources') - but the Outtakes are actually brill. "Yazoo Street Scandal" actually feels like Dylan's force is strong with the Robbie-one-Kenobi  - but even tastier is an 'Alternate Take' of "Tears Of Rage" that emphasises the Piano more. It's a fabulous addition and stands up by itself. Both Robertson and Manuel penned "Katie's Been Gone" and it's another genuinely great discovery. "...This would be Take 400...rolling..." the Engineer wittily intros "Long Distance Operator" - and again it feels like your eavesdropping on creativity in full flow. You can hear why the quicker "Lonesome Suzie" Alternate was dumped in favour of the much slower and more soulful arrangement. "Keys To The Highway" is a cover of a Big Bill Broonzy song with some great fuzzed-up guitar. Impressive stuff...

The Band's debut is often described as patchy - seen as a group getting there - heading towards the undeniable songwriting maturity of 1970's "The Band". But I'd argue that even though you're told other albums are better - "Music From Big Pink" is one of those records you keep returning too - and digging it more and more each time you do.

Dirt cheap from most online retailers - this is one of those occasions where you don't have to pay through the CD nose to get that great combo of top music and quality sound. And if ever a group deserved such a sweet outcome - then The Band are it.

"...I Shall Be Released..." they sang back in the day. And with music in my heart – they were right...

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