Across the Great Divide: The Band, “Just Another Whistle Stop” from Stage Fright (1970)

A song of dimly lit, strange salvation, “Just Another Whistle Stop” is a gem worth digging up for those who rarely get past the Band’s first two albums. A carny pitchman, voiced with pained urgency by co-writer Richard Manuel, offers a trip away from danger aboard a glory-bound train — and, apparently, just in time, as the law’s red wail is right behind.

Unfolding amidst a series of thrilling time changes, “Just Another Whistle Stop” utterly gallops along, past each of those whistle stops, on stream provided by the locked-in rhythmic tandem of Rick Danko and Levon Helm. Robbie Robertson, who finished Manuel’s track, adds these angular guitar lines — they sound (because of this album’s noticeably cleaner, more separated approach to mixing) like licks from the flames of hell — even as Garth Hudson’s boiling Lowrey exhortations frame the narrative.

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Placed in context with the preceding “Time to Kill” and “Sleeping,” both of which longed for a simpler life, “Just Another Whistle Stop” presents the dark worries of the Band’s current travels within a familiar, sweeping mythology that always made their best songs resonate. Stage Fright, as Levon Helm noted in his autobiography, was starting to emerge as an album “about loss, and about the sweetness of success gone slightly sour.”

More particularly, you can hear — for anyone who bothered to do so, amidst the continuing (though often justified) hagiography surrounding Music from Big Pink and The Band — an unfolding set of songs that’s every bit the equal of those that came before. The difference, of course, is measured in context. The themes on Stage Fright are often more direct, more personal. But they are already revealing themselves to be no less emotionally profound — and, to state the obvious, the album is just getting started.

Across the Great Divide is a weekly, song-by-song examination from Something Else! on the legacy of the Band, both together and as solo artists. The series runs on Thursdays.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has also explored music for publications like USA Today, Gannett News Service, All About Jazz and Popdose for nearly 30 years. Honored as newspaper columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section that was named Top 10 in the nation by the AP in 2006. Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.