The museful accordion of Garth Hudson on Rick Danko’s “New Mexicoe” heralds not just an important partial reunion for the post-Robbie Robertson Band, but one of the most notable lost gems from their combined solo careers. Danko’s 1977 solo debut would remain out of print for years, as important as it was neglected into the 1990s.
Listen, though, as “New Mexicoe,” with its initial sense of reminiscence, perfectly matches those baleful times — with so much uncertainty ahead not just for Danko but for all of the Band. Danko handles the Bobby Charles lyric with a coiled sadness, eyes on the horizon but heart lodged in his throat. He’s someone who has been handed his hat and coat, but is still lingering at the doorway of his future. That is, until Eric Clapton takes a guest turn, sounding more like Robertson than himself. Hudson returns then, and his billowing asides — so reminescent of ages gone by — bring the song into focus.
Ever the easy-going tactician, Danko perfectly echoes that growing intensity as “New Mexicoe” roars toward its anthemic conclusion: “There’s so much,” he sings with a searing sense of urgency, “that I’d like to see.” And just like that, over the course of a remarkable four-minute stretch, it seems that Danko has come to terms with everything that’s come to pass — and, perhaps more importantly, everything that still awaits — at this crossroads moment.
He sounds ready, finally, to pass over that threshold, to begin his journey.
Of course, we now know that Danko somehow wouldn’t issue another solo record until he joined forces with Eric Andersen and Jonas Fjeld in 1991. It would be another two years after that before the Band reconvened for Jericho. By then, Robertson had started a tandem solo career and Danko’s Band-mate Richard Manuel was long gone.
But, ultimately, all of that takes nothing away from this heart-filling statement of purpose, one of the high-water marks on an underrated project that stands now as the only studio effort after 1977’s odds-and-ends Band finale Islands to feature all five original members. Robertson joins Danko for “Java Blues,” Manuel is at the electric piano on “Shake It,” and Levon Helm adds harmony to “One Upon a Time.”