One Track Mind: Neil Young, the Sadies and Garth Hudson, “This Wheel’s On Fire” (2012)

The forthcoming Garth Hudson Presents: A Canadian Celebration of the Band, curated and performed alongside co-founding keyboardist Garth Hudson, is nearly set ablaze by this ferocious new take on “This Wheel’s on Fire.”

Elsewhere on the album, there are loving updates of Band classics from Cowboy Junkies, Bruce Cockburn and Blue Rodeo, but none of those redone tracks is perhaps more remarkably executed than this one from Neil Young, the Sadies and Hudson.

Young’s searing yowl is featured here over an insistent, bedraggled cadence — and they never let go of that angular propulsion, giving the song the sense of angry menace. Make that, a long-overdue sense of angry menace.

What the song captures is the way the Band actually sounded, not the way it recorded. This isn’t the low levee moan found on Bob Dylan and the Band’s late 1960s Basement Tapes sessions — not to mention the more kaleidoscopic take, with Rick Danko’s perfectly longing lead vocal, for 1968’s Music from Big Pink.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Neil Young’s newest collaboration with Crazy Horse, the forthcoming ‘Psychedelic Pill,’ is both a fiery requiem for and a boisterous resurrection of the spirit of the 1960s.]

What you hear on Garth Hudson Presents: A Canadian Celebration of the Band is something more in keeping with galloping version the Band did for The Last Waltz, minus Allen Toussaint’s funky horns.

From its rambunctious, off-kilter start, to its scalding guitar solo, to its twinkling keyboard conclusion from Hudson himself, “This Wheel’s On Fire” shows how the Band’s music could be just as dangerous as it could be contemplative. The group has been rightly deified over the years for its sensitivity, but not as much has been made of their fury and wit.

Young, Hudson and the Sadies, with this scalding update, help set that right.

‘Garth Hudson Presents: A Canadian Celebration of the Band,’ produced by Band cofounder Garth Hudson and Peter J. Moore (Cowboy Junkies, Lucinda Williams), features a number of songs Hudson says are his favorites from the group’s live repertoire — including familiar moments like “The Shape I’m In,” Dylan’s “Clothes Line Saga” from The Basement Tapes, and even a deep cut from post-Robbie Robertson era, “Move To Japan.” Hudson appears on every track.

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Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on the Band and Neil Young. Click through the titles for complete reviews …

GIMME FIVE: CELEBRATING LEVON HELM, CO-FOUNDER AND VOICE OF THE BAND: The loamy voiced, rail-jumping rhythmic center point of the Band, Helm re-emerged in the last decade after an initial diagnosis to reclaim his mantle as yearning storyteller and timeless soul singer. Three straight Grammy awards followed, starting in 2008. Unfortunately, Helm’s third-act triumphs in the studio were matched pace for pace by his illness. Helm, 71, is now said to be in the final stages of his cancer battle. The Arkansas native leaves behind, however, a series of lasting musical statements. Those Grammys helped to underscore Helm’s importance, within the Band and within the broader landscape of American roots music – but it is here, within the songs, that it becomes manifest. Even after all of that, Helm’s signature style remained. His playing was an involving mixture of rhythm and emotion – someone once said he was the only drummer who can make you cry – while his singing remained a wonder of ribald bewilderment, old-time religion and shotgun shack-rattling joy.

NEIL YOUNG, WITH CRAZY HORSE – PSYCHEDELIC PILL (2012): He opens with “Driftin’ Back,” a thunderous, nearly half-hour track that equals and, in some cases, surpasses so many of the songs that seek to contextualize the 1960s. I’m not sure anyone has better illustrated the impotent fury that followed for those who worked so hard toward change, only to see it all come to such a thudding conclusion. The album might have ended right there, if Psychedelic Pill — due October 29, 2012, from Reprise Records — were sequenced differently, if it only sought to look back. Instead, Crazy Horse is then granted a chance to do what it does best — to completely rock out, and thus recall every one of its earlier, floor board-rearranging triumphs with Young. In that way, they end up reconstructing the soaring promise, and the boundless joy, of the decade Young started out eulogizing here.

BOB DYLAN AND THE BAND – DOWN IN THE FLOOD (2012): A film that goes in-depth on one of rock’s most intriguing musical intersections, all of it over roughly a single decade beginning in 1966. In the end, Dylan had an incalculable impact on the Band: His lyrical mysteries, his sharply intuited narratives, permeated their earlier influences, creating an as-yet-unheard synthesis. The Band’s debut, utterly distinct, timeless and yet new, was different in every way from the ornate, polished hits of the day. At the same time, it was different than Dylan too, more vulnerable, more straight forward. As Dylan himself retreated further into the safety of country music into the late 1960s, the Band emerged with some of the guttiest, most mythically complex, most honest music of the decade.

ROBBIE ROBERTSON – HOW TO BECOME CLAIRVOYANT (2011): How to Become Clairvoyant is, thus far, Robbie Robertson’s most blatantly personal solo release, taking on his split with the Band, nostalgia for his generation’s spent idealism, and the realization of a dark aftermath for the era’s hedonistic excesses. That might sound like the kind of triumphal return many had hoped for over the 13 years since Robertson’s last album, 1998?s Contact from the Underworld of Redboy. But then he issued a pair of uneven advance singles. While “He Don’t Live Here No More” boasted a clinched-jaw realism, “When the Night Was Young” came off as obvious, maudlin, even pollyanna. It’s the risk, really, with confessional work.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso