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5 September 2009

Band - 'Music From Big Pink' (Capitol)

So, the canon rears its head. It took me awhile to really get into the Band, cause I always found them "too earthy" back in those dark years where I was more interested in listening to, I dunno, Harriet the Spy -- instead of Big Pink, a record acclaimed by just about everyone in history as being an all-time classic. Of course that's not reason enough to worship it; there's nothing more annoying than the blind recitation of critic pablum and when I finally did start to dig the Band it was through a genuine 'sinking in' of their work into my brainblood. I wonder how much Greil Marcus has to do with all of this, though. I mean, he wrote Invisible Republic and ever since the mythology has been in place. You know, Dylan and the Band, holed up in upstate New York and redefining American music, etc. etc. Except weren't the Band actually Canadian? I could wikipedia that to be sure, but I guess it doesn't matter since Neil is a 'nuck too and he gets a free pass for writing some of the most 'American' music ever ('Out on the Weekend', 'Thrasher', anyone?). To be honest it was almost exactly one year ago that I started to really click with Basement Tapes, meaning the officially released double LP first and not the "real" or "genuine" basement tapes. And hey, raise a glass to the bootleggers cause they deserve to use those titles -- the officially-released Basement Tapes are kind of a fucking joke since the Band went back and faked a bunch of it to raise their stature in history. Of course I think Dylan was probably fine with that, smirking at the muddy mess, figuring if you're gonna release the damn things finally (cause it was about 9 years later, right?) you might as well be half-assed about it. So yeah, about a year ago I was driving around in a car for a few weeks and I only had a few CDs, two of which were Basement Tapes (which will be henceforth referred to without a preceding article to distinguish from the bootlegs). And goddamit, I finally fell in love with it, maybe cause I was visiting the US at the time or maybe because my time had finally come. And I've subsequently checked Invisible Republic out of the library and pushed my way through the whole turgid thing and started digging through the actual basement tapes through many online bootlegs (the best of which I've found is the 4CD set A Tree with Roots), and fuck me, maybe I'm starting to believe it a bit. Which means that Music from Big Pink, which I've always liked more than the self-titled one, has started to really grow on me. I think the earliest Band is my favorite since a few Basement Tapes songs that didn't make it to Big Pink are some of the best ones: 'Bessie Smith', 'Katie's Been Gone'. But I think this is a deservedly great album and I will have to cast my lot with this version of 'Tears of Rage' - even though Dylan wrote the fucking thing, Manuel squeezes every bit of life out of those weird, cryptic lyrics and by the end I actually feel physically drained by it. It's hard to hear all the ghosts of old weird America to the level that the Marcus book would make you expect (and 'The Weight' feels just like classic rock radio/beer commercial music to me) but there's definitely cracks in the woodwork. These young Hawks were definitely going for something and you can hear a lot of pain inside 'Caledonia Mission' ;; 'Long Black Veil' sure doesn't hurt either. But maybe we should blame this album for inventing roots rock and thus the Black Crowes, the H.O.R.D.E. festival, Blues Traveler, etc.? My jury's still out on which version of 'This Wheel's on Fire' is my favorite; ditto for 'I Shall Be Released'. I guess three Dylan compositions was about par for this time (Unhalfbricking?) but these guys get more claim to it since they obviously had the close relationship with him that everyone else dreamt of. My copy of this is beat to shit, with scratches and surface noise galore, and I think that's the only way I want to hear it. I spun a CD reissue that tacked on a 'Katie's Been Gone' demo but it was just too clean for me. Do you think the basement was clean?

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