Rock n’ roll history has seen several innovative and visionary bands and the majority of them enjoys continuous popularity among fans and the appreciation of music critics. But in few cases us, the listeners, don’t do enough justice to certain artists.
The Band is easily one of the most underrated music acts ever, as these guys did more to rock than dozens and dozens of those who came before or after them. Even the name – ‘The Band’ – common, yet definitive, clearly tells you that they are no ordinary bunch of songsters. Robbie Robertson. Rick Danko. Levon Helm. Richard Manuel. Garth Hudson. They recorded and played with Dylan, performed at Woodstock 69′, their song ‘The Weight’ was featured in Easy Rider, and the final concert was filmed by Scorsese… Pretty damn impressive achievements if you ask me.
Calling them underrated is probably not completely accurate because as far as music criticism goes, they’re universally acclaimed. But if I were to quiz people here and there if they actually knew The Band, I would not get many positive responses.
The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Dylan, Joplin, Hendrix, Presley – everyone knows the big names. I swear to God, The Band should be amongst these legends. And the only reason they’re not, is that they didn’t end up being pop-culture icons, always doing their own thing, not following trends. When it comes to musicianship, The Band excelled immensely.
I’m not sure whether I’m the only odd one here, but I like to differentiate between who my favorite musicians are, and whom I consider the most important from the perspective of rock n’ roll theory and history. The truth is, two albums of The Band, Music From the Big Pink and the eponymous second LP are automatically making them rock standard in my book.
Music From the Big Pink opens with a slow-tempo ballad ‘Tears of Rage’, written by Bob Dylan. ‘We carried you in our arms on Independence Day “ – the track is overflowing with emotions of disappointment and anger. Richard Manuel’s vocals are really heartbreaking on this one.
Some other songs on the album include ‘The Weight’, the sixties’ classic and rock n’ roll canon (‘The Last Waltz’ version with The Staples Singers is absolutely stellar), ‘Long Black Veil’ – a cover of a beautiful country ballad, ‘The Chest Fever’ – a tune memorable for its gibberish lyrics, yet accompanied by no-nonsense grand organ, and finally ‘I Shall Be Released’ – another work by Dylan, a gospel-influenced song about the imprisonment of body and soul and overcoming it.
The Band, the second album, brings in even more Americana and roots rock. The album cover really reminds me of the American pioneers, pushing the frontier and the Wild West vibe some of Johnny Cash’s recordings had. ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’ largely refers to the American Civil War, and the pain the Southerners have suffered. The song is a history lesson and has tradition and folklore written all over it – I can really imagine it being sang in the 1860s. ‘The Unfaithful Servant’ is a tale of an affair and shame, and proves to be a display of Rick Danko’s vocals ability. ‘King Harvest (Has Surely Come)’ in turn tells a story of a poor farmer from 1930s, who’s going through plenty of hardships. The song surely is among The Band’s top efforts lyrics- and performance-wise.
Anyone interested in the sixties music (and beyond really) should totally check them out.
Even if it’s not that evident on this blog, I’m quite unhappy with most of the music today. For this reason, I get really hyped about pearls like the band I’d like to mention next. Three sisters – Este, Danielle and Alana Haim, and drummer Dash Hutton make up for four members of the Los Angeles-based group called HAIM. Their first solo album, ‘Days Are Gone’ was released in September last year.
What caught my attention is that their sound is so similar Fleetwood Mac of the Tango In the Night era, slightly adjusted to modern music. The sisters’ vocals harmonize beautifully and synthesizers give the CD that 80s feel I love. Lindsey Buckingham is an incredibly skilled guitar player, but the girls are still pretty good, and there are few nice hooks on the album. It is dominated by radio friendly rock mid-tempo tracks, the kind of sound which Fleetwood Mac hits basically helped define.
My only complaint about the album is ‘My Song 5’. I mean, anyone familiar with Guns N’ Roses will understand what I mean by saying that this tune is to ‘Days Are Gone’ what ‘My World’ was to Use Your Illusion II.