WHO ARE THEY? Ronnie Hawkins’ old bar band. Bob Dylan’s best basement band. Four Canadians (guitarist Robbie Robertson, bassist Rick Danko, pianist Richard Manuel and organist Garth Hudson) and one American (drummer Levon Helm) who basically pioneered Americana. And pretty much the only band in history so distinctive and unforgettable that they could get away with a name as arrogant (yet simultaneously self-effacing and generic) as The Band.
WHAT IS THIS? A remastered, remixed and exhaustively expanded version of their superb self-titled 1969 sophomore album, which includes timeless classics such as The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, Up On Cripple Creek, King Harvest (Has Surely Come) and Across the Great Divide. This version — which follows a similarly refurbished and upgraded version of their sterling and immortal debut Music From Big Pink — ups the ante with a baker’s dozen studio outtakes and their previously unreleased 11-song Woodstock set.
WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? The audio equivalent of scanning a sepia-toned daguerreotype into the computer and then transforming it into 3D animation. As with Big Pink, studio whiz Bob Clearmountain hasn’t just cleaned up the tapes; he’s boldly but respectfully remixed the entire disc, subtly shifting elements in the sonic canvas to breathe new life into the proceedings.
WHAT SHOULD IT BE TITLED? Bridging The Great Divide.
HOW SHOULD I LISTEN TO IT? Despite all the striking sonic improvements, there’s still something about The Band’s music that makes you want to have it pressed on 78s and played on one of those ancient gramophones with a giant earhorn.
WHAT 10 WORDS SUM IT UP? Nostalgic, rustic, earthy, loose, unvarnished, swampy, organic, warm, sincere, shaggy.
WHAT ARE THE BEST SONGS? That’s a real tossup — it’s all pretty damn magical, to be honest. The remixed studio tracks are superb and transfixing. The Woodstock set is both historic and fantastic, thanks to a raucous, lively performance and a set list that includes The Weight, Tears of Rage and This Wheel’s On Fire, along with covers of Long Black Veil and The Four Tops’ Loving You is Sweeter Than Ever. Finally, the half-dozen previously unreleased bonus cuts include an alternate version of Up on Cripple Creek and a laid-back take on Rag Mama Rag. Which would you pick?
WHAT WILL MY FRIENDS SAY? ‘This must surely be the single greatest album ever recorded in Sammy Davis Jr.’s pool house.’
HOW OFTEN WILL I LISTEN TO IT? These songs never get old. And thanks to these mixes, it’s almost like hearing them for the first time again.
IF THIS ALBUM WERE A COLOUR, WHAT WOULD IT BE? A deep, rich brown somewhere between whiskey, tobacco, beef jerky, coffee, cowhide and mahogany.
SHOULD I BUY, STREAM OR STEAL IT? If you’ve read this far and haven’t already decided to shell out, I’ve clearly failed somehow.