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SO WHAT do you do if you've been backing up one of America's finest songwriters- and one day he goes to Nashville and quits you? It's not going to happen to you, but it happened to the Band; and , digging their work, they decided to get a couple of friends and keep backing up Dylan... without him.
Their second album. The Band, though more polished than Big Pink, is still somewhat disappointing. And unfortunately the album's basic flaw seems built in to the Band itself. Back-up musicians are not supposed to be brilliant instrumentalists; they provide a setting against which the featured artist performs. And while the Band is made up of very competent musicians who work well with each other, the end result lacks focus. While the sound is very fine, it simply does not repay close listening.
Stylistically, The Band is Country and Western rock, with mandolin, jew's harp, and some very funky ragtime piano to hint at the down home atmosphere, while drums, organ, and electric guitar give the music a drive which CandW does not possess. The album is technically sound and it is the kind of music you can hum in your mind when you're falling asleep in lecture. Each cut is very professionally arranged and performed to project the atmosphere which the Lyrics describe. As a unit then, the Band works. But judged according to standards set by people like Cream. The Experience, or the Who, group competence simply cannot win over the creative brilliance of individual members of a group.
In a sense, the same criticism can be made of the lyrics. All of the cuts were written by Jaime Robertson, who was helped on a few songs by other members of the band. The country orientation of the Band's music becomes more explicit in their Lyrics, which have a Southern, agrarian tone. And here, though again there is a lack of original insight, I think Robinson's iteration was to build songs valid by contemporary standards using a traditional framework. And within the limits he has set for them, the lyrics are successful.
Lyrically, the most satisfying cut on the album has the unlikely title of "Whispering Pines." Written by Richard Manuel and Robertson, it is a very sensitive treatment of the almost desperate sadness that disillusionment and loneliness produce:
"I can see you standing there. But I don't see you ... anywhere... Standing by the well, wishing for the rain. Reaching to the clouds... for nothing else remains."
As an album. The Band is solidly good, if some what uninspired. It works as a cohesive unit to create a relaxed, essentially affirmative mood. By giving real value to the simpler things in life, the Band can look at an evil world and see potential for good.
"The corn in the fields. Listen to the rice as the wind blows Cross the water. King Harvest will surely come."
I think the Band's harvest will surely come too... just not this fall.
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