The Band, “In a Station” from Music from Big Pink (1968): Across the Great Divide

“In a Station,” this light-filled paean to the Band’s pastoral surroundings at Big Pink, is a powerful argument against the recent label repackaging, and repackaging yet again, of their individual songs.

The Band was never a singles group, and certainly their output over a torrential creative outburst in 1968-69 was meant to be experienced of a piece — not as a series of edited moments in what has been a seemingly endless string of best-of and box sets over the past decade or so.

Confine your listening to those grab-bag corporate cash grabs, and you’re going to miss both the tender joys of this Richard Manuel gem, and the larger tapestry of storytelling and feeling at play on Music from Big Pink.

Coming as it does after the excruciating sadness of “Tears of Rage” and the shambolic rumination on salvation that was “To Kingdom Come,” the idyllic reverie of “In a Station” balances everything that came before — even as it provides an early window into the dichotomy that was Manuel as a writer and as a singer.

If “Tears of Rage” showed how desperately lonesome he could be, “In a Station” finds Manuel — with a dreamy accompaniment on the clavinet from Garth Hudson — opening his whole heart up to the world around him.

Perhaps, in the end, that simply represented two sides of the same coin for this lost genius, testament (even on rare live performances like the one attached, where Hudson’s diaphanous contributions are pushed to the fore) to a person in the troubled Manuel who simply felt too much.

Meanwhile, Rick Danko provides a warmly supportive assist on bass and backing vocals, then Robbie Robertson steps to the fore for a yearning turn on the electric guitar — imbuing the track with the kind of melancholic grandeur so often associated with George Harrison. There’s really nothing to compare, however, with Manuel’s naked, emotional bravery. He stands in the middle of a swirl of wonder, memory and unabashed ardor until “In a Station” pulls away with an echoing flourish.

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