Sunday, 19 March 2017

"Cahoots" by THE BAND (2000 Capitol 'Expanded Edition' CD Remaster with Five Bonus Tracks) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...Life Is A Carnival...Take Another Look..."

Forever the ugly child to its older siblings (1968's "Music From Big Pink", 1969's "The Band" and 1970’s "Stage Fright") - on American release in October 1971 The Band’s fourth studio outing "Cahoots" lumbered up to No. 21 on the US charts and was gone by the end of the year. Dismissed by many in the Press at the time as a 'band' already showing signs of being past it and except for sporadic moments of that old magic - running on empty - "Cahoots" was considered by tastemakers as one of those five-out-of-ten LPs that you buy anyway because you’re such a nerdy fan – nay even sucker.

In fact in Blighty - where The Band and their musings had reached almost mythical levels amongst musicians and certain parts of the public - the LP managed a staggeringly bad one single week on the UK LP charts in November when it was released there – unceremoniously excluded from Christmas stockings by Scrooge-faced punters humming and hawing at the mere sight of it. Robbie Robertson would later describe some of the songs as 'bizarre' and not even the presence of Van Morrison (riding high at the time) and Southern Soul gentleman Allen Toussaint on two different tracks (both courtesy of Warner Brothers) funked-up sales or persuaded otherwise.

But time is a healer - and 46 years after the event I feel we should reappraise this awkward and clumsy baby No. 4 – dancing about my living room to "Life Is A Carnival" just wanting to be loved like the other three. Here are the Take Another Look details...

UK released September 2000 (August 2000 in the USA) - "Cahoots" by THE BAND on Capitol 525 3912 (Barcode 724352539123) is an ‘Expanded Edition’ CD Remaster with Five Bonus Tracks that plays out as follows (60:44 minutes):

1. Life Is A Carnival [Side 1]
2. When I Paint My Masterpiece
3. Last Of The Blacksmiths
4. Where Do We Go From Here
5. 4% Pantomime
6. Shoot Out In Chinatown [Side 2]
7. The Moon Struck One
8. Thinkin' Out Loud
9. Smoke Signal
10. Volcano
11. The River Hymn
Tracks 1 to 11 are their fourth studio album "Cahoots" - released October 1971 in the USA on Capitol SMAS 651 and November 1971 in the UK on Capitol EA-ST 651 in a Gatefold Sleeve. Produced by THE BAND - it peaked at No. 21 in the US LP charts and No. 41 in the UK. 

12. Endless Highway (Early Studio Take)
13. When I Paint My Masterpiece (Alternate Take)
14. Bessie Smith (Outtake)
15. Don't Do It (Outtake-Studio Version)
16. Radio Commercial

Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel and Rick Danko
Guests include Van Morrison on "4% Pantomime" and Allen Toussaint on "Life Is A Carnival"

As with each of these September 2000 Capitol CDs (Produced and Compiled by CHERYL PAWELSKI and ANDREW SANDOVAL) - the 16-page booklet is a pleasingly in-depth affair and has new pictorial elements. ROB BOWMAN provides the new liner notes accompanied by photos of the studio, tracking sheets for "When I Paint My Masterpiece" and "Endless Highway", lyrics, reissue credits (the whole issue is 'In Memory of Richard Manuel and Rick Danko') and even a repro of the lone American 45 lifted off the album - September 1971's "Life Is A Carnival" b/w "The Moon Struck One" on Capitol 3199 ("When I Paint My Masterpiece" b/w "Where Do Go From Here" was to be Capitol 3249 in December 1971 but was cancelled and withdrawn).

But the big news is the Audio. "Cahoots" had a more polished and some say 'brittle' sound that the ramshackle Americana feel to the preceding albums - and many have complained that commercialism and radio-friendly needs practically ruined their chemistry-sound - and that rot started in full force here. I don't agree - the Audio here by ROB McMASTER and ANDREW SANDOVAL is very punchy all of a sudden and for all the right reasons. Sandoval was involved in all The Kinks and Small Faces 'Deluxe Editions' on Universal - so he knows his way around a master-tape or two. The only real glitch is the Audio Quality on the Marvin Gaye cover version of "Don't Do It" which they admit has been taken from 'best possible sources' because there are problems with the quality of the original masters on the 'Studio Version' (there's a storming live take of the song on the August 1972 live-double "Rock Of Ages"). Given what they had to work with overall – the team has done well and it all sounds great to me. Let's get to the music... 

I've always been partial to a Rock Band finding its inner Funk and Allen Toussaint's Meters-Brass is all over "Life Is A Carnival" - a tune that's stood more than the test of time for me. I find it a shimmering cool-aid - a wicked rare groove - inspired even - although I can understand how it's Pointer Sisters/Sly & The Family Stone rhythms freaked out hardcore Band fans wanting more tales of Appalachian Mountain Men wailing about their hardships with a dignified wince at on the oncoming winter winds. Bob Dylan's wonderful "When I Paint My Masterpiece" gives us that - a great Americana accordion melody sung with fantastic world-weary pathos by Levon Helm sounding scarily like he's Bob Dylan's older and wiser brother. The Remaster continues to sound fantastic on Robertson's "Last Of The Blacksmiths" - Richard Manuel doing well to remain soulful as those weird 'crying horns' punctuate the tune. The biggest enemy being 'man' - "Where Do We Go From Here" sings the plight of wildlife and railroads - all disappearing under the boot of progress. The liner notes tell us The Band weren't particularly fond of the song - but I've always like it and Rick Danko's great vocal. Van Morrison drops into the sessions - hears Robbie Robertson at the piano doodling on a chord - and suddenly the two are co-writing "4% Pantomime". Apparently done in one take at Bearsville Studios the next day - the lyrics are apparently loosely about the difference between Johnny Walker Black and Johnny Walker Red whiskies. It ends Side 1 on a cool duet vocal of Soulful men enjoying themselves.

I’d admit that the LP starts to suddenly feel ordinary with the wimpy guitar pings in "Shootout In Chinatown" - a song that's trying to be something and not quite getting there. But things improve big time with one of the LP's undeniable highlights - "The Moon Struck One" - a Robbie Robertson song directly inspired by Julie and Little John Tyler - characters Robbie had gleaned from 'Jules Et Jim' - the classic 1962 Francois Truffaut film. Richard Manuel's vocals are so damn good on "The Moon Struck One" as are Rick Danko's on the Piano/Dobro romp that is "Thinkin' Out Loud" - another stunning transfer and a hugely underrated song on the LP. The lyrics "...when they're torn out by the roots...young brothers join in cahoots...' in "Smoke Signal" give the album its name - a funky Robertson piano roller again with great sound and cool Stones guitar strumming. "Volcano" and "The River Hymn" bring the album to a finish - the first a brass funker that's part Little Feat part Stoneground - while the echoed piano of the finisher is classic big-picture Band.

As is the case with so many reissues - you hope for the best with 'Bonus' material - but as others have excitedly noticed - the four extra songs on "Cahoots" offer up some truly great outtake Band numbers - way better than they had any right to be. First up is an early studio take of "Endless Highway" that is all piano and vocals – free and swinging and sounding so fresh (what a great Remaster). We get a more acoustic-based alternate of "When I Paint My Masterpiece" and holy rollers but I must just prefer this to the finished article as I’ve been playing instead for years now. The audio dips admittedly for the Danko/Robertson session outtake "Bessie Smith" – but what a melody this is – full of real Band soul and character and way better than some of the lesser material on the released LP. The Funk of “Don’t Do It” was considered as an album track for ages but eventually dropped in favour of "Life Is A Carnival". Oh man what I would give to hear this is genuinely better studio sound – but there’s at least the live cut on "Rock Of Ages" which is also in this 2000 CD Series.

What we have here is a 5-star CD reissue of a 3 to 4-star album and I for one think "Cahoots" is a bit of an overlooked nugget that deserves serious reappraisal on this superlative reissue/remaster.  

"...We walked back to the house...while the moon struck one..."

Strike two for your household and give this baby-out-of-bathwater album a dry towel and another hug...

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