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Band - The Band

  by Carl Bookstein

published: 3 / 10 / 2013

Band - The Band


Carl Bookstein reflects on new five CD box set, 'Live at the Academy of Music 1971'

If heaven is in need of a choir, it should consider The Band. A legendary group, The Band became famous backing up Bob Dylan as the folk poet first went electric. This dream grouping of musicians created a sound so rich, homespun and pastoral, that it would soothe your soul, guaranteed. When they got to rocking, they likewise carried a knockout punch. Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Richard Manuel were the angelic trio of vocalists (who have all now passed away); Robbie Robertson, the brilliant lead guitarist and extraordinary songwriter and Garth Hudson conjured innovative and church like rhapsodies on organ. In 1971, in New York City, The Band played a series of concerts live at the Academy of Music, through to their New Year’s Eve finale. Highlights from these concerts were originally released as the 1972 'Rock of Ages' album. A more thorough exploration of these shows is now being released as a five disc set, including the full New Year’s Eve show soundboard mix with a welcome guest appearance by Bob Dylan. The collection starts out rollicking from the get go, with 'The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show', including Levon Helm singing the intro, into a distinctive vocal by Rick Danko. The sound on this recording is crystal clear, with The Band in finest form. Richard Manuel takes the lead vocal on 'The Shape I’m In' with an impassioned rendition. The lyric “How in the world do you get to heaven?” is powerful in light of Manuel’s later untimely death in 1986. 'Caledonia Mission' from the seminal 'Music from Big Pink' album is gorgeous. Also present is the definitive version of 'Don’t Do It' backed by a well orchestrated horn section. Robertson’s lead guitar is thrilling, enhanced by Helm’s propulsive drumming. Danko performs a rich lead vocal on 'Stage Fright' bolstered by Hudson’s over the top organ playing. Manuel’s falsetto on 'I Shall Be Released' is somehow both soul healing and chilling - a tremendous version. Also present is a killer 'King Harvest (Has Surely Come)' and a majestic 'The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down' with Helm’s vocal encompassing mournful gospel with roots in country and blues. This truly is rock of ages and some of the finest live performances ever captured. From the second disc, 'Get Up Jake' is another favourite and Danko’s 'Unfaithful Servant' vocal is a soulful wonder. The classic hit 'The Weight' is delivered with perfection. This collection’s New Year's Eve show in full is very special. Bob Dylan’s guest performance on the December 31st set is phenomenal. Dylan and The Band playing 'Down in the Flood' is a first rate treat. Dylan likewise turns in a rich vocal rendition of 'When I Paint My Masterpiece'. This is Dylan and The Band playing together at the height of their combined powers. 'Like a Rolling Stone' closes the set. Dylan’s vocals here are resonant- a poignant, definitive version with full bodied backing by The Band. The number is in and of itself almost worth the price of admission. 'Live at the Academy of Music 1971' comes highly recommended.

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Band - The Band

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