By the time the Band convened to record the long-awaited Northern Lights-Southern Cross, Garth Hudson had become deeply absorbed in the musical technology of the day. Combine these advances with an innate sense of wonder and his comprehensive skill set, and it’s easy to see why Yamaha had sought Hudson out when developing a then-new polyphonic CS-80 synthesizer.
All of that was brought to bear on this richly layered 1975 album, one which had already seen Hudson use the Band’s state-of-the-art 24-track Shangi-La studio in Malibu as its own orchestra, creating a stunningly complex Dixieland revue all by himself on “Ophelia.”
Nowhere, however, was Hudson’s sense of musical bravado placed in higher relief that on “Jupiter Hollow.” Arriving late in a project that turned into a spectacular canvas for Hudson, this Robbie Robertson song would be his magnum keyboard opus. The carefully crafted lyric begins grounded in Greek mythology, and then suddenly blasts off into the outer limits of imagination — with Hudson as its rocket fuel.
“All I needed to do was present the possibility of this space-age odyssey to Garth,” Robertson tells us in an exclusive Something Else! Sitdown, “and it was like pushing his button.”
Levon Helm takes the principal lead, with Richard Manuel voicing a few lines even as he adds a frisky second cadence. Robertson plays a funky-cool clavenet, rather than guitar. But, really, it’s all in service of Hudson’s aerial acrobatics — and those sounds, coaxed out of next-gen contraptions like the Mini Moog and the ARP throughout Northern Lights-Southern Cross, end up tracing the broader outline of this new frontier in ways that a grounded implement like language never could.
In so doing, the Band showed that there was more to their music than heartfelt, and determinedly lo-fi, looks back. With the magisterial, endlessly fascinating “Jupiter Hollow,” they connected space exploration with our impetus toward places like the great American west — and the future with their always resonant muse. Much of the credit goes, in the end of Hudson, even if Robertson wrote it and others sang it.
Only Hudson could hear, could truly hear, the music of the spheres found among these lyrics.