If the Band’s Northern Lights-Southern Cross was a showcase for Garth Hudson — and Moondog Matinee one for Richard Manuel — then Jubilation can be thought of as Rick Danko’s album. Peter Viney noted that when this 1998 project was new, and it still holds true.
Danko’s woody asides on a standup bass created a backbone for the album’s acoustic aspirations, and its very best vocal moments belonged to him, as well. That starts with “Booked Faded Brown,” the opening track on Jubilation, and a song so achingly beautiful in Danko’s hands that it survives even a cloying moment when author Paul Yost takes a rainbow metaphor too far.
Danko’s voice, poignant now with aged wisdom, finds previously unknown depths in the song’s straight-forward reminiscence. Meanwhile, his bass, oaken and resonant, interwines with Hudson’s antediluvian wheeze on the accordion while Randy Ciarlante — rather than a missing Levon Helm — provides the slapping rhythm counterpoint.
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In fact, if there’s a complaint to be made about Jubilation, it’s that the collaborative spirit of these barn recordings (on what would, sadly, become the Band’s final album) ended up creating a hodge-podge of personnel. Ciarlante and Hudson appear on every track, but Helm and Danko — absent on Levon’s rollicking update of Allen Toussaint’s “You See Me” — sit out for a pair of others. All six of the then-current regular working members of the Band, in fact, only play as part of one song — “If I Should Fail.”
Guitarist Jim Weider, Hudson, producer Aaron Hurwitz (on keyboards) and background vocalists Sister Maud Hudson and Marie Spinosa round out the proceedings on “Book Faded Brown.” Still, it’s Rick Danko — who to this point had seemed torn between the Band and his trio work with Jonas Fjeld and Eric Andersen — who grabbed the spotlight, and never let go.
In retrospect, it’s difficult to believe Danko would be gone in just over a year, so dominant a force is he on this track and the bulk of Jubilation. But listen more closely, and there’s a precipitative sadness to this project. “Book Faded Brown,” with its heartfelt, old-fashioned sentiments about family and tradition, had found its true voice — and the Band, a kind of wistful sense of finality.