Friday, 20 January 2017

"Stage Fright" by THE BAND (2000 Capitol 'Expanded Edition' CD Remaster of their 3rd album from 1970) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...Turned From The Sun...Saw Everyone...Searching..."

With two hugely influential albums already under their belt (1968's "Music From Big Pink" and 1969's "The Band") – it was time for Americana's pioneers to let the side down.

Some felt they did with "Stage Fright". I didn't. I've always loved this album. In fact it's quite probably biblically blasphemous and goat-sacrificial to say that studio platter number three for THE BAND is 'better' in places than its illustrious predecessors. But as Californication's Hank Moody would say to his agent Charlie the Runkalator as they hide even more scantily clad skanky hookers and a blizzard of cocaine from their long-suffering wives - "...I'm going to rock out with my cock out..."

Again - I love this album and this sweet-sounding 2000 CD Remaster only hammers that affection home all of 47 years later. Here are the details and The Shape It's In...

UK released September 2000 (August 2000 in the USA) - "Stage Fright" by THE BAND on Capitol 525 3952 (Barcode 724352539529) is an 'Expanded Edition' CD Remaster with Four Bonus Tracks and breaks down as follows (71:57 minutes):

1. Strawberry Wine
2. Sleeping
3. Time To Kill
4. Just Another Whistle Stop
5. All La Glory
6. The Shape I'm In [Side 2]
7. The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show
8. Daniel And The Sacred Harp
9. Stage Fright
10. The Rumor
Tracks 1 to 10 are their 3rd studio album "Stage Fright" - released August 1970 in the USA on Capitol Records SW-425 and October 1970 in the UK on Capitol Records EA-SW 425. Produced by DICK HIRTHE and Engineered by TODD RUNDGREN - it peaked at No. 5 in the USA and No. 15 in the UK LP charts.

11. Daniel And The Sacred Harp (Alternate Take)
12. Time To Kill (Alternate Take)
13. The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show (Alternate Mix)
14. Radio Commercial

ROBBIE ROBERTSON – Guitars and Vocals
RICHARD MANUEL - Vocals, Piano, Drums, Baritone Sax & Mouth Harp
GARTH HUDSON – Keyboards and Saxophones
RICK DANKO - Vocals, Bass, Violin & Trombone
LEVON HELM - Vocals, Drums, Mandolin & Guitar

Compiled for CD by Cheryl Pawelski and Andrew Sandoval - the 16-page booklet has fantastically comprehensive liner notes by ROB BOWMAN that feature interviews stretching back twelve years (from 2000), repros of the American Promo 45 for "Time To Kill" and "The Shape I'm In" on Capitol P-2870 as well as two photos of The Band on sofas (one at outtake from the LP shoot). There is discussion on Todd Rundgren's pivotal role as Producer giving the LP the polish their 2nd album "The Band" lacked in 1969. Both Glyn Johns and Rundgren mixed the record and this CD offers the album as it was meant to be – differing from the original Remaster by Capitol in 1990 and the subsequent audiophile issue by DCC in 1994. The new 24-bit remaster by ANDREW SANDOVAL and RON McMASTER gives the album the oomph it's needed. It's a triumph to my ears. Let's get to the music...

"Stage Fright" is a group dealing with and being cudgelled by fame. Recording in June 1970 over only two weeks – the ramshackle looseness (musicians and like minds enjoying themselves) that so warmed up the first two albums was already gone. Some felt the overall LP cold and dark and too bleakly personal in places – and it was short too at 35 odd minutes. But the music for me is key. It opens with "Strawberry Wine" by Levon Helm and Robbie Robertson – a rollicking accordion song about drinking with lyrics about never getting any peace of mine (climbing up the walls and laughing in the dark). "Sleeping" is sad for sure - but it’s beautiful too and the remaster has accentuated that lovely piano and Robertson's distant thinny guitar parts (lyrics from it title this review).

Things slide slightly with Robertson's "Time To Kill" - it's good but its also throwaway for me and the happy-wappy vibe Danko and Manuel try to vocally create feels forced. Nice axe work from Robbie on "Just Another Whistle Stop" and the bass on "All La Glory" is so damn clear now - a hymn from Robbie Robertson to his newly born daughter sung by Levon in that utterly unique voice of his (love that keyboard break - so subtle and pretty). "All La Glory" ends Side 1 on a high.

As I recall the 16-days in the jailhouse tale of monetary woe that is "The Shape I'm In" was relegated to the B-side of "Time To Kill" in the States (October 1970) - when I can't help feeling it was an obvious A with its pounding keyboard funk. In March 1971 the British side of Capitol got it right and issued "The Shape I'm In" with "The Rumor" as its flipside on Capitol CL 15675 - not that the public noticed. "The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show" was the kind of tune that would have sounded fresh on "Music From Big Pink" - here for some reason it feels old already. Better is "Daniel And The Sacred Harp" - a religious procession song sung as if its a love song to some in the Old Testament. There's beautiful sound on it - those slides and strummed acoustic. The album's title track "Stage Fright" remained a live staple for the band for years - culminating in 1979's "The Last Waltz" where it seemed to come into its own. Although some think it a downer - I've always found the very Harvest-sounding "The Rumor" to be a huge grower - that piano and guitar duetting and the vocals. And you can so hear today's Americana seeping out its every pore...

"...Should I come in there...with that back beat..." - the boys joke in some studio banter after a false start. Amidst the bonus tracks is a thrill for Band fans - an Alternate Mix of one of the album's strong points "Daniel And The Sacred Heart". The audio is gorgeous - clear Bass and Acoustic Guitar - less clutter than the finished version. I might actually prefer the new Alternate Mix to "Time To Kill" to the released version - and again on here with fabulous audio. Great guitar opens "The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show" where the Alternate has more pronounced vocals and brass - and the one-minute po-faced sounding "Radio Commercial" uses snippets from "Stage Fright", "Strawberry Wine" and "The Shape I'm In" to sell 'the third album from The Band on Capitol'...

I know some see it as a four-star record but with that renewed audio and those genuinely cool extras - "Stage Fright" is one of those occasions where you don't have to pay through the CD nose to get that great combo of top music, quality sound and a cheap price (their first two album outings are the same and mots are online for less than a fiver).

"...The storm is past...there's peace at last..." – Richard Manuel sang on the many mood shades of "Sleeping" – lost in his music – lost in the game. Lost or not - I've so enjoyed joining him there once again...

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