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6 September 2009

The Band (Capitol)

History has been kind to the second Band album, giving it one of those nicknames ('the Brown album') that few other records are able to pull off. But what's changed? They're a bit further away from Dylan, with Robbie Robertson taking a much more domineering role (with a writing credit on every song) and the roots-rock sound taking more of a hold. 'The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down' attempts to recaputre the magic (and accessibility) of 'The Weight' and it exceeds it, in my opinion. But the genre stompers like 'Rag Mama Rag' don't do much for me. Again, my copy of this is beat to shit, but that's the way it should be listened to, even if there's an inpenetrable skip during the delicate 'Whispering Pines'. Underneath all the crackles I can hear that the production is first-rate, which is actually one of my favorite aspects of this record. The way the piano resonantes on 'Dixie' and the acoustic guitar creeps out of the mix is perfect - there's a lot of separation, but it still feels natural and organic. I guess the funky 'Up On Cripple Creek' beat out Neil's by at least a year; I like to think of two rafts meeting midway. I like Neil's tune better but this one has porn bass and jaw's harp, so. This is pretty affected music, meaning that these guys had a schtick which you can see in every aspect - the songwriting, the artwork, the clothing they're wearing in the photo, and even the way they sing stuff like 'Jemima Surrender'. And I'm okay with some old-timey throwback vibes - I mean that's why they call this "roots" rock, right? They proved in the basement that they've properly digested the Anthology and I guess I can hear some of Clarence 'Tom' Ashley in 'Jawbone', if I listen hard enough. I suspect this is generally regarded as their best work because it's so much more confident than Big Pink, but I don't hear as much yearning and pain. I think they're trying, but they aren't squeezing out the notes with as much gravitas. Remember, I was raised on slow off-kilter songs and stuff like Palace Brothers, so a song like 'Rockin' Chair' (even though it's pretty awesome) still sounds solid and confident to me. Overall it's admirable that this came out in 1969 but couldn't sound further away from the psychedelic sixties. Maybe this is the American version of The Village Green Preservation Society, but again, these guys are mostly Canadian. How can I ever work out all of these contradictions?!

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