The Return Of A Familiar Sound

Originally posted April 6, 2009

After I utterly missed Rick Danko while looking at a 1980s video of The Band Thursday, I thought a little bit about the version of the group that formed in the 1990s, releasing three CDs and touring several times. And I wondered what songs, if any, I should offer here over the next month or two. So I clicked on over to All-Music Guide and then to Amazon.com to refresh my memory on who wrote what on the three 1990s albums.

And I learned that all three of those CDs – Jericho from 1993, High on the Hog from 1996, and Jubilation from 1998 – are out of print. There are copies for sale out there, but the three pages at Amazon noted that “This item has been discontinued by the manufacturer.”

I’m of two minds about that. First, I think it’s a shame. There’s a lot of music from the 1990s still in print that’s not anywhere near as good as The Band’s three albums from that decade. I acknowledge that the albums released by The Band in the late 1960s and early 1970s were far superior to what came later, especially the first three: Music From Big Pink (1968), The Band (1969) and Stage Fright (1970). But the three 1990s albums had their moments, too, and I think they deserve better. On the other hand, their being out of print frees me to share them here. We’ll start with the first of the three, 1993’s Jericho.

The 1990s group was made up of three original members of the group: Levon Helm, Garth Hudson and the now-departed Rick Danko. They were joined by Jim Weider, Randy Ciarlante and Richard Bell, who passed on in 2007.

And Jericho had a guest/ghost vocalist: The group recorded a backing for a vocal performance of “Country Boy” laid down by Richard Manuel in 1985, a year before he killed himself. I saw The Band in the mid-1990s in Minneapolis, and the best of a number of great moments in the performance came when the six musicians played the backing track to “Country Boy” with no vocal in front of it, their tribute to Manuel.

I got the album on cassette for Christmas in 1993, shortly after it came out, and it was difficult at the time to assess how good the album actually was. It was such a treat to hear the three members of the original group again, to hear Danko and Helm switch off vocals, to hear Hudson’s keyboard and woodwind artistry, and to hear the three of them collaborate with the three new players to create the rootsy sound that always defined The Band.

Digging past the sound and into the credits, the first thing one notices about Jericho is that the group wrote very few of the songs. In the original incarnation of The Band, of course, Robbie Robertson had – by The Band in 1969 – become the group’s main songwriter. (There’s some disagreement about that among members of the original group, but I’m just going by the writing credits as listed on the albums.) On Jericho, only three of the twelve tracks – “Remedy,” “The Caves of Jericho” and “Move to Japan” – list members of the group as writers, and always in collaboration with others.

That said, however, The Band’s collegial approach to music – both vocal and instrumental – makes the nine other songs, covers all, work just fine. Highlights to me are Bob Dylan’s “Blind Willie McTell” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” along with “Country Boy” and the elegiac “Too Soon Gone.”

What doesn’t work? Well, nothing fails spectacularly. “Move to Japan” is kind of silly, but it clunks along all right. And “Amazon (River of Dreams)” doesn’t always work in its attempt to be atmospheric.

At the time the album came out, though, I don’t think there were a lot of quibbles from listeners and fans. The first track I heard was “Atlantic City,” which came on the radio late one evening as I was driving back to Minneapolis from Rob’s home. The mandolin introduction caught my ears, and I listened carefully as I drove. Then Helm began his vocal, and when I realized who it was – it took no more than ten seconds of surprised thinking – I grinned. I imagine a lot of other folks were grinning, too, at the return of a familiar sound.

Tracks:
Remedy
Blind Willie McTell
The Caves of Jericho
Atlantic City
Too Soon Gone
Country Boy
Move to Japan
Amazon (River of Dreams)
Stuff You Gotta Watch
Same Thing
Shine A Light
Blues Stay Away From Me

Jericho – The Band [1993]

Reposts
The Hawk – Ronnie Hawkins [1971]
Original post here.

Living By The Days – Don Nix ([971]
Original post here.

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