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Rock - Released July 1, 1968 | CAPITOL CATALOG MKT (C92)

Hi-Res Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
Listening to The Band is like contemplating old sepia pictures of America: it means hearing the sounds of a rock'n'roll brimming with its classical influences: blues, folk, country, jazz... After accompanying Bob Dylan in the studio and on stage, the Canadian gang led by Robbie Robertson put out their first album in high summer 1968. The record was cooked up in the Woodstock house they dubbed Big Pink. Out of step with other albums of its day, Music From Big Pink with its sleeve painted by Dylan himself, packs some timeless gems: The Weight, This Wheel's On Fire, Chest Fever, Tears Of Rage… Country in silk shirts, folk fused with jazz, old-timey waltzes and roots rock, this long meander prefigures Americana... Above all, this is a collective work – they don't call it The Band for nothing – and from bassist Rick Danko to drummer Levon Helm via pianists Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel, and Robertson on guitar, everyone brings a stone of their own to build this major edifice of American rock. © Marc Zisman/Qobuz
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Rock - Released June 1, 1978 | Rhino - Warner Records

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Rock - Released September 22, 1969 | SPECIAL MARKETS (SPM)

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The Band's first album, Music from Big Pink, seemed to come out of nowhere, with its ramshackle musical blend and songs of rural tragedy. The Band, the group's second album, was a more deliberate and even more accomplished effort, partially because the players had become a more cohesive unit, and partially because guitarist Robbie Robertson had taken over the songwriting, writing or co-writing all 12 songs. Though a Canadian, Robertson focused on a series of American archetypes from the union worker in "King Harvest (Has Surely Come)" and the retired sailor in "Rockin' Chair" to, most famously, the Confederate Civil War observer Virgil Cane in "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." The album effectively mixed the kind of mournful songs that had dominated Music from Big Pink, here including "Whispering Pines" and "When You Awake" (both co-written by Richard Manuel), with rollicking up-tempo numbers like "Rag Mama Rag" and "Up on Cripple Creek" (both sung by Levon Helm and released as singles, with "Up on Cripple Creek" making the Top 40). As had been true of the first album, it was The Band's sound that stood out the most, from Helm's (and occasionally Manuel's) propulsive drumming to Robertson's distinctive guitar fills and the endlessly inventive keyboard textures of Garth Hudson, all topped by the rough, expressive singing of Manuel, Helm, and Rick Danko that mixed leads with harmonies. The arrangements were simultaneously loose and assured, giving the songs a timeless appeal, while the lyrics continued to paint portraits of 19th century rural life (especially Southern life, as references to Tennessee and Virginia made clear), its sometimes less savory aspects treated with warmth and humor. © William Ruhlmann /TiVo
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Rock - Released August 17, 1970 | Capitol Records

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Pop - Released January 1, 2009 | Capitol Records

Distinctions Stereophile: Record To Die For
Released on the heels of the stilted, static Cahoots, the double-album Rock of Ages occupies a curious yet important place in Band history. Recorded at a spectacular New Years Eve 1971 gig, the show and album were intended to be a farewell of sorts before the Band took an extended break in 1972, but it turned out to be a last hurrah in many different ways, closing the chapter on the first stage of their career, when they were among the biggest and most important rock & roll bands. That sense of importance had started to creep into their music, turning their studio albums after The Band into self-conscious affairs, and even the wildly acclaimed first two albums seemed to float out of time, existing in a sphere of their own and never having the kick of a rock & roll band. Rock of Ages has that kick in spades, and it captures that road warrior side of the band that was yet unheard on record. Since this band -- or more accurately its leader, Robbie Robertson -- was acutely aware of image and myth, this record didn't merely capture an everyday gig, it captured a spectacular, in retrospect almost a dry run for the legendary Last Waltz. New Orleans R&B legend Allen Toussaint was hired to write horn charts and conduct them, helping to open up the familiar tunes, which in turn helped turn this music into a warm, loose, big-hearted party. And that's what's so splendid about Rock of Ages: sure, the tightness of the Band as a performing unit is on display, but there's also a wild, rowdy heart pumping away in the backbeat of this music, something that the otherwise superb studio albums do not have. Simply put, this is a joy to hear, which may have been especially true after the dour, messy Cahoots, but even stripped of that context Rock of Ages has a spirit quite unlike any other Band album. Indeed, it could be argued that it captured the spirit of the Band at the time in a way none of their other albums do. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Rock - Released August 17, 1970 | CAPITOL CATALOG MKT (C92)

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Rock - Released September 22, 1969 | SPECIAL MARKETS (SPM)

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The Band's first album, Music from Big Pink, seemed to come out of nowhere, with its ramshackle musical blend and songs of rural tragedy. The Band, the group's second album, was a more deliberate and even more accomplished effort, partially because the players had become a more cohesive unit, and partially because guitarist Robbie Robertson had taken over the songwriting, writing or co-writing all 12 songs. Though a Canadian, Robertson focused on a series of American archetypes from the union worker in "King Harvest (Has Surely Come)" and the retired sailor in "Rockin' Chair" to, most famously, the Confederate Civil War observer Virgil Cane in "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." The album effectively mixed the kind of mournful songs that had dominated Music from Big Pink, here including "Whispering Pines" and "When You Awake" (both co-written by Richard Manuel), with rollicking up-tempo numbers like "Rag Mama Rag" and "Up on Cripple Creek" (both sung by Levon Helm and released as singles, with "Up on Cripple Creek" making the Top 40). As had been true of the first album, it was The Band's sound that stood out the most, from Helm's (and occasionally Manuel's) propulsive drumming to Robertson's distinctive guitar fills and the endlessly inventive keyboard textures of Garth Hudson, all topped by the rough, expressive singing of Manuel, Helm, and Rick Danko that mixed leads with harmonies. The arrangements were simultaneously loose and assured, giving the songs a timeless appeal, while the lyrics continued to paint portraits of 19th century rural life (especially Southern life, as references to Tennessee and Virginia made clear), its sometimes less savory aspects treated with warmth and humor. © William Ruhlmann /TiVo
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Rock - Released August 17, 1970 | Capitol Records

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Rock - Released September 22, 1969 | CAPITOL CATALOG MKT (C92)

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Once the backing band of Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan during the latter's controversial transition from acoustic to electric, The Band—four Canadians and a singing drummer from Arkansas—cemented their unity with a generic name, and startled the rock music world with the otherworldliness of their 1968 debut Music from Big Pink. The follow-up, simply titled The Band (and fondly known as The Brown Album), is a near-perfect mix of American popular music, from country and blues to folk and rock. Recorded in a Hollywood Hills house once owned by Judy Garland, and at the time of the sessions, Sammy Davis Jr., it's one of rock's greatest albums and a foundational touchstone of today's Americana, filled with songs Rolling Stone described as "diamonds that begin to glow at different times." Often favorably compared to Abbey Road, which was released the same week in September 1969, this 50th anniversary reissue features a fresh remix supervised by Bob Clearmountain and Robbie Robertson, and is supplemented with alternate takes and demos, as well as the first official release of the Band’s performance at Woodstock. More coherent and with fewer rough edges than its predecessor, The Band's strengths are immediately audible. The likable and loping opener "Across the Great Divide," (with its unexpected brass and reed accents), followed by the barrelhouse piano romp of "Rag Mama Rag," signals the grounding and respect for the past. Animated by Levon Helm's impassioned singing, "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," later memorably covered by Joan Baez, is Robbie Robertson's (the other members' uncredited contributions are a source of controversy) melancholy paean to the South's demise in the Civil War, and perhaps the Band's best-known singalong number. Their biggest hit single, "Up on Cripple Creek," the loopy tale of "little Bessie," who's "a drunkard's dream if I ever did see one,"—most famous as the opener for the 1978 concert film The Last Waltz—is full tilt Americana at its finest. Other standout tracks include Richard Manuel's delicate, dreamy vocals on "Whispering Pines," one of the quintet's most tender performances. As a final twist, there's the super funky closer "King Harvest (Has Surely Come)" with its building groove and Manuel and Helm's one-of-a-kind vocal performances. While none of the alternate performances are life-changing, a version of "Rag Mama Rag" with a slower tempo and fanciful piano intro is illuminating. The Woodstock performances which start out nervous and tight but grow warmer as the set wears on are highlighted by a shout from the crowd of "Where's Dylan?" before "Tears of Rage." Americana begins here. © Robert Baird / Qobuz
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Rock - Released December 16, 2002 | Rhino - Warner Records

As a film, The Last Waltz was a triumph -- one of the first (and still one of the few) rock concert documentaries that was directed by a filmmaker who understood both the look and the sound of rock & roll, and executed with enough technical craft to capture all the nooks and crannies of a great live show. But as an album, The Last Waltz soundtrack had to compete with the Band's earlier live album, Rock of Ages, with which it bears a certain superficial resemblance -- both found the group trying to create something grander than the standard-issue live double, and both featured the group beefed up by additional musicians. While Rock of Ages found the Band swinging along with the help of a horn section arranged by Allen Toussaint, The Last Waltz boasts a horn section (using Toussaint's earlier arrangements on a few cuts) and more than a baker's dozen guest stars, ranging from old cohorts Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan to contemporaries Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, and Van Morrison. The Band are in fine if not exceptional form here; on most cuts, they don't sound quite as fiery as they did on Rock of Ages, though their performances are never less than expert, and the high points are dazzling, especially an impassioned version of "It Makes No Difference" and blazing readings of "Up on Cripple Creek" and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" (Levon Helm has made no secret that he felt breaking up the Band was a bad idea, and here it sounds if he was determined to prove how much they still had to offer). Ultimately, it's the Band's "special guests" who really make this set stand out -- Muddy Waters' ferocious version of "Mannish Boy" would have been a wonder from a man half his age, Van Morrison sounds positively joyous on "Caravan," Neil Young and Joni Mitchell do well for their Canadian brethren, and Bob Dylan's closing set finds him in admirably loose and rollicking form. (One question remains -- what exactly is Neil Diamond doing here?) And while the closing studio-recorded "Last Waltz Suite" sounds like padding, the contributions from Emmylou Harris and the Staple Singers are beautiful indeed. It could be argued that you're better off watching The Last Waltz on video than listening to it on CD, but either way it's a show well worth checking out. © Mark Deming /TiVo
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Rock - Released July 1, 1968 | CAPITOL CATALOG MKT (C92)

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Listening to The Band is like contemplating old sepia pictures of America: it means hearing the sounds of a rock'n'roll brimming with its classical influences: blues, folk, country, jazz... After accompanying Bob Dylan in the studio and on stage, the Canadian gang led by Robbie Robertson put out their first album in high summer 1968. The record was cooked up in the Woodstock house they dubbed Big Pink. Out of step with other albums of its day, Music From Big Pink with its sleeve painted by Dylan himself, packs some timeless gems: The Weight, This Wheel's On Fire, Chest Fever, Tears Of Rage… Country in silk shirts, folk fused with jazz, old-timey waltzes and roots rock, this long meander prefigures Americana... Above all, this is a collective work – they don't call it The Band for nothing – and from bassist Rick Danko to drummer Levon Helm via pianists Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel, and Robertson on guitar, everyone brings a stone of their own to build this major edifice of American rock. © Marc Zisman/Qobuz
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Rock - Released August 15, 1972 | CAPITOL CATALOG MKT (C92)

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Pop - Released January 1, 2000 | Capitol Records

The Band was a very album-oriented group, and only had two Top 40 hit singles. So one could argue that a single-disc greatest hits compilation, or best-of anthology as this might more properly be called, is not the optimum way to dig into their repertoire. But if you're limiting yourself to one Band collection and your budget or patience does not stretch for the two-CD To Kingdom Come set, this 18-song program hits all the famous buttons, including "The Weight," "Chest Fever," "Up on Cripple Creek," "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," "The Shape I'm In," "Stage Fright," and "When I Paint My Masterpiece." Naturally, it leans most heavily on their first two albums, which supply four songs each. Good, lengthy liner notes by Rob Bowman are a nice bonus, considering that single-disc career-spanning overviews often dispense with such frills. Strange, though, that "Don't Do It," their one Top 40 hit single other than "Up on Cripple Creek," isn't here; in fact, there's nothing from their live Rock of Ages. © Richie Unterberger /TiVo
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Rock - Released August 17, 1970 | CAPITOL CATALOG MKT (C92)

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Rock - Released July 1, 1968 | CAPITOL CATALOG MKT (C92)

Listening to The Band is like contemplating old sepia pictures of America: it means hearing the sounds of a rock'n'roll brimming with its classical influences: blues, folk, country, jazz... After accompanying Bob Dylan in the studio and on stage, the Canadian gang led by Robbie Robertson put out their first album in high summer 1968. The record was cooked up in the Woodstock house they dubbed Big Pink. Out of step with other albums of its day, Music From Big Pink with its sleeve painted by Dylan himself, packs some timeless gems: The Weight, This Wheel's On Fire, Chest Fever, Tears Of Rage… Country in silk shirts, folk fused with jazz, old-timey waltzes and roots rock, this long meander prefigures Americana... Above all, this is a collective work – they don't call it The Band for nothing – and from bassist Rick Danko to drummer Levon Helm via pianists Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel, and Robertson on guitar, everyone brings a stone of their own to build this major edifice of American rock. © Marc Zisman/Qobuz
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Rock - Released September 17, 2013 | Capitol Records (CAP)

Not so much an expansion of 1972's classic double-live album Rock of Ages, but an exhaustive tribute to its source material, the four-CD/one-DVD 2013 box set Live at the Academy of Music 1971 digs deep into the Band's year-end four-night stint at New York City's Academy of Music. The original 18-track sequence for the 1972 LP has been abandoned in favor of a double-concert construct, where the first two discs present one version of each of the 29 songs the Band played over the course of these four nights, while the final two discs present the entirety of the New Years Eve concert that capped off this residency; this CD is remixed from the soundboard tapes, and the DVD replicates this New Years Eve concert (note that there is no footage of the NYE concert, so the music is presented with a selection of stills; nevertheless, there are full clips of the Band performing "King Harvest (Has Surely Come)" and "The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show" on December 30, which are welcome). This structure is an appealing one but invites perhaps more duplications than are necessary. The 29 songs on the first two disc contain 11 songs from the New Years Eve show -- including the four-song encore with Bob Dylan -- but the trade-off is the NYE concert is loaded with unheard versions of familiar songs: 16 of the 27 songs are previously unreleased (in contrast, the only unearthed song on the first two discs is a killer version of "Strawberry Wine"). Perhaps some of these performances are ever so slightly rougher than the accompanying ones on the first two discs, but that liveliness is part of the appeal (besides, this is hardly ragged; as enthusiastic as the Band is, they're also supplemented by Allen Toussaint's horn section, so they do need to hit their marks to ensure all the elements fit together). Rock of Ages and, in turn, Live at the Academy of Music 1971 do close out the early years of the Band. They'd tour again, supporting Bob Dylan in 1974, and they turned out a few more records before disbanding in 1976, but they never seemed as triumphant as they did at the end of 1971. Although this box is not perfect -- it's hard not to wish there were no duplications on the first two discs, or the last two -- it is nevertheless a mighty testament to the Band at the peak of their powers. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Pop - Released March 15, 1977 | CAPITOL CATALOG MKT (C92)

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Rock - Released January 1, 2015 | CAPITOL CATALOG MKT (C92)

The 2015 digital compilation The Capitol Rarities: 1968-1977 is a nice, 33-track round-up of songs that were originally digitally released as bonus tracks on Capitol's acclaimed Band reissues from 2000 and 2001. With those expanded CDs fading into the history books, it's best for the non-LP cuts not to get stranded, particularly when so many of them are so very good. Among the highlights are the wooly "If I Lose," non-overdubbed selections originally released on the 1975 double-LP The Basement Tapes, studio versions of "Don't Do It" and "Get Up Jake," and alternates of "King Harvest (Has Surely Come)" and "Time to Kill," but it's all worthwhile. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 2001 | Capitol Records

The Band essentially went back to being the Hawks of the late '50s and early '60s on this album of cover tunes. They demonstrated considerable expertise on their versions of rock & roll and R&B standards like Clarence "Frogman" Henry's "Ain't Got No Home," Chuck Berry's "The Promised Land," and Fats Domino's "I'm Ready," but of course that didn't do much to satisfy the audience they had established with their original material and that, two years after the disappointing Cahoots, was waiting for something in the same league with their first three albums. © William Ruhlmann /TiVo
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Pop - Released January 1, 2001 | Capitol Records

The first studio album of Band originals since 1971's Cahoot -- in many respects, Northern Lights-Southern Cross was viewed as a comeback. It also can be seen as a swan song, in that its recording marked the last time the five members would work together in the studio as a permanent group, with a commitment to making a record they would tour behind and build on as a working band. The album was also, ironically enough, the Band's finest since their self-titled sophomore effort, even outdoing Stage Fright. It was spawned after a series of battery-recharging events -- the move of all five members out of Woodstock, New York and to Malibu, California, into a new, state-of-the-art 24-track studio that not only felt right but offered them (especially Garth Hudson, working with Moog synthesizers and other new instruments, as well as brass and reeds) a bigger creative and sonic canvas than they'd ever known before; and the decision to finally let the other shoe drop on their early career, accompanying Bob Dylan on their first-ever studio album together (Planet Waves) which, in turn, had led to an eight-week tour together, this time captured for posterity and, unlike their mid-'60s Dylan tour, rushed out midway through the work on the album at hand. Between all of that, their own live album (Rock of Ages), and the Moondog Matinee album of rock & roll and R&B covers, the group found itself with more music in print at one time than they'd ever dreamed possible, despite the four-year gap in new material, and in several genres and modes, and blossoming in some unexpected directions -- just prior to the start of the sessions for this album, Levon Helm and Garth Hudson had fulfilled another milestone, the goal of doing an honest-to-God blues album (which dated from the group's tragically brief liaison with Sonny Boy Williamson in 1965), producing and/or playing on what ended up being a Grammy-winning LP by Muddy Waters, the Woodstock Album. It was time to make some of their own music again, and Robbie Robertson obliged by showing up with a bumper crop of great new compositions. Northern Lights-Southern Cross totals eight songs in all, and he and the rest of the group rose to the occasion, luxuriating in the range afforded by the studio (christened Shangri-La, a reference to the idyllic haven for art and civilization in James Hilton's novel Lost Horizon -- the vibes were that good). On this album the Band explore new timbres, utilizing 24 tracks and what was (then) new synthesizer technology, and also opening out their sound in some unexpected ways. After years of restrained, economical playing Robbie Robertson -- who was practically the Count Basie of rock guitarists in terms of following a less-is-more philosophy -- stepped out in front with flashy, extroverted playing on "Forbidden Fruit," a semi-autobiographical (about the group) cautionary rock ballad; his elegant trills and flourishes on "Hobo Jungle"; his twanging and twisting away behind Hudson's beautiful, complex brass and horn parts on "Ophelia", a close relative of "W.S. Walcott Medicine Show" from Stage Fright, which captured the kind of old-timey New Orleans sound that the group had also embraced, in the form of covers, on Moondog Matinee. Robertson and Hudson seem to feed off one another's presence throughout, perhaps best of all on "Ring Your Bell," which also restores the group's trademarked shared vocals. "It Makes No Difference" might be the best romantic ballad ever done by the group, while the ebullient "Jupiter Hollow" is an exceptional track three times over, a brilliant showcase for keyboards (and not just by Hudson -- Robertson forsakes the guitar here for a clavinet), as well as offering Levon Helm and Richard Manuel tripling up on percussion with a drum machine. "Rags and Bones" is one of Robertson's most deceptively personal songs, and features the most elaborate keyboard sounds of any recording in the group's history. "Acadian Driftwood" stands out as one of Robertson's finest compositions, equal to anything else the Band ever recorded, and a slightly more complex and ambitious (and successful) down-north analog to "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." The vocals by Helm, Manuel, and Rick Danko were all spot-on as well, on this last great musical statement from the group, and the fact that it only made number 26 on the charts is much more indicative of the state of music radio and Capitol's marketing department (which was only really good at selling Beatles and Beach Boys reissues at the time), than any flaws in the record. [The 2001 reissue offers exceptional sound, upgraded to 24-bit mastering, and extends the running time by seven delightful minutes with the addition of a pair of bonus tracks, an early run-through of "Twilight," which was released as a single in the wake of the LP, and a stripped down, upbeat rehearsal version of "Christmas Must Be Tonight"; but either version one gets of Northern Lights-Southern Cross, is worth owning]. © Rob Bowman & Bruce Eder /TiVo