Recorded quickly by former Bob Dylan backing musicians in New York and Los Angeles, but spiritually set in an unglamorous Catskills basement, The Band’s 1968 debut album is a loose, laid-back record by design. This is exactly why stoners, scholars, scruffy lords and tambourine buffs keep coming back. Music by Big Pink after all these years. It’s one of the most welcoming albums in rock history – a shaggy dog tale of love, death and American sin that pulls you in from the front line. Listen to “Tears of Rage” and you’re in the dream: someone delivers a dark and meaningful monologue (“We carried you in our arms/Independence Day…”) while your hosts offer you a drink and a place near the Fire. How could you not agree, if only to find out what happens next?
This beautifully packaged 50th anniversary box set delivers a brighter, cleaner mix than previous reissues, so you can really hear the lust in “Chest Fever,” the heartbreak in “Long Black Veil,” and the dead-and-a-half blues in “The Weight.” There is also an insightful essay by rolling stoneis David Fricke, and a new a cappella montage of “I Shall Be Released” which shines a nice spotlight on the falsetto with the falling angel of Richard Manuel. If you like the band, it’s usually nothing you haven’t heard thousands of times before, but nothing else is necessary. Half a century later, the brotherhood of Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Manuel and Garth Hudson still makes you want to join in the fun.