Music by Big Pink (50th Anniversary Edition)
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
When Music by Big Pink was released in July 1968, it was unlike anything else in the musical landscape. Fifty years later, that has not changed.
Everything about this now legendary debut album was different. The band’s name, members, photos, and even track titles were conspicuously absent from the exterior graphics. Bob Dylan’s folk art cover painting was an unusual way to visually announce a new act, and the rustic, ballad-heavy set was an anomaly with the psychedelic sounds dominating that year. Often inscrutable lyrics, irregular song structures, and multiple vocalists further separated it from the norm.
Whether this was the auspicious start of the Americana of the four Canadians and a Yank is debatable. But there is no doubt that Music by Big Pink became a landmark of the genre; an often dark, gloomy and beautifully crafted perfect storm where meticulously written lyrics and stunning acting coalesced into music that stood, and does, stand apart from any era.
All of which makes it ripe for rediscovery in this expanded 50and Anniversary set, available in various digital, vinyl and CD editions, featuring a deluxe box set containing a 5.1 mix with a hardcover book of essays and photos. Six titles are added to the program (curiously, the 2001 reissue had three more) but the major improvement is Bob Clearmountain’s splendid remix. He delicately infuses more presence into the audio without diminishing the innate balance of a performance where every member was an equal contributor.
The album was intricately produced by John Simon and meticulously arranged with three vocalists/players – Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Richard Manuel – sharing the spotlight (Robbie Robertson also took on rare lead vocals). Subtleties such as slanting backboards, the inspired and playful sounds of keyboard genius Garth Hudson (especially on “This Wheels On Fire”), and Helm’s unique drum patterns are given new shine, making this classic yet enduring. more attractive.