Thursday, May 1, 2014

45. The Band (1969) The Band

  1. Across the Great Divide
  2. Rag Mama Rag
  3. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
  4. When You Awake
  5. Up on Cripple Creek
  6. Whispering Pines
  7. Jemima Surrender
  8. Rockin' Chair
  9. Look Out Cleveland
  10. Jawbone
  11. The Unfaithful Servant
  12. King Harvest (Has Surely Come)

I'm not really sure what Americana actually is. It seems to me to be country music for people who are too cool to consider themselves country. Or possibly too liberal to associate with its ideals. Country music is fairly rooted in conservative values and viewpoints. It's patriotism, beer, bourbon, homophobia, veiled racism and a general fear of anyone who isn't from the south. Or at least that's the popular conception.

Americana seems like a way of embracing the land and the working class values of country music without having to lament the death of your dog or hate communists. It's a musical connection with prairies without the need to vote republican. It's a way of combining a love of horse riding with marijuana usage.

There are lots of bands who currently seem to embrace Americana and its musical traditions. In the middle of 2013 Bob Dylan toured with Wilco, My Morning Jacket and Ryan Bingham as The Americana Tour, proudly boasting their Americana credentials. Meanwhile other bands were happily using the word to describe their music and outlook.

Back in 1969 nobody was using the term much but that doesn't mean The Band aren't rightfully considered one of the founding fathers of whatever the heck Americana actually is. Their blend of rural appreciation with traditional rock and roll helped create a genre, along with The Grateful Dead's two greatest albums (Workingmans' Dead and American Beauty) and Dylan's "Country period." The Band  seemed to be the embodiment of Americana, which is an especially neat trick when you consider the fact that they're mostly Canadian.

There's no doubt however that you don't need to live in the south, or even in America itself, to appreciate how good The Band is. Even if you can't ride a horse and your knowledge of the American civil war is superficial at best, you can appreciate the fact that Up on Cripple Creek and The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down are two fantastic songs. They're both written by Robbie Robertson but they sound so authentic that most people think they're covers. People talk about The Band's version as if they were just one of many people doing covers rather than the first people to come up with the tune itself. It's not just the songwriting, it's the performance which sounds like a bunch of guys trying to replicate a song they heard in a bar being sung by tired old musicians playing a song they learned from their grandpappy who learned it from his grandpappy before him. They've both got such an American sound and are both beautiful tunes.

There are other great moments of authentic Americana on The Band. Rag Mama Rag is great as is King Harvest has surely come both of which will take you back to a place that it's possible you've never even been.

The Band were a curious outfit who shared responsibilities more than most other outfits. Robertson might be the most lauded member for his songwriting skills and tasteful guitar playing but the others are all talents in their own right. They all contributed to the song writing process, they could all sing and Robertson was the only one who wasn't a multi-instrumentalist. The bass player played fiddle and trombone, the drummer played mandolin,  one keyboard player could handle himself on a sax and harmonic and the other played accordion, melodica, sax and trumpet. More than other group from their era they come across as a group of musicians, not a bunch of guys who wanted superstardom. It's little wonder Dylan loved playing with them so much.

If you have no idea what Americana actually is then give this a try. I'm not sure what it is either but if this is it then it's an extremely pleasant way to spend some time.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "The previous two reviews of this album really made me scratch my head -- then they just made me laugh. "

-Yeah here's a tip. The order of reviews on Amazon moves around so the reviews your talking about are impossible for us to identify. Glad they made you giggle though.

So is The Band The Band or just a band? Let me know below


  1. Respect. From many quarters. Big talents. shame about the demise of a few of their team. Still, respect from me and many. Dixie is such a good song. And for years we thought it was Joans.

  2. Great band, call 'em whatever ya like. You're right about their authenticity. It's just effortless.

  3. Great band, call 'em whatever ya like. You're so right about their authenticity. It's just effortless. And remember, Canadians are Americans.