Presented as a celebration of the Band’s passion for R&B and blues music, Moondog Matinee features nine vocals originally done by African-American singers — recalling, if not exactly mimicking, their original barn-burning days as the Hawks. In fact, the only song to be included on this covers project from their old setlists was this one, a desperately lonesome ballad that initially hit for Bobby “Blue” Bland.
More important than its direct link to those pre-fame times, however, was the role that this Richard Manuel-sung gem played with the project. Filled with Richard’s depthless longing, “Share Your Love (With Me)” gave Moondog Matinee — which was, as is so often the case with such things, more fun than it was essential — an emotional center, a memorable kind of gravitas.
With “Share Your Love,” we got a sense of why the Band always thought of Manuel as their lead singer, why they stuck with him through his struggles with substance and alcohol abuse, why they were never quite the same when he was gone. Who else could have challenged the great Bland on his own turf?
After all, Bland could growl and snort with the best of the blues belters, but he also had a rare ability to sing a torch song in an unaffected style that helped him cross over to a white audience. (Thus, his designation at one point as the Sinatra of R&B singers.) Along the way, he clearly had an impact on Manuel, on the Hawks, and then the Band. The group also covered Bland favorites like “Turn On Your Lovelight” and “Further On Up the Road” — the latter of which made a gala reappearance as part of the The Last Waltz.
And so, approaching this couldn’t have been an easy thing for Manuel. But he’s bolstered here by Garth Hudson’s billowingly orchestral keyboard work, in a precursor to his fuller explorations on Northern Lights-Southern Cross. And somehow once more, as “Share Your Love” moves into its anthemic middle, Manuel all but snatches “Share Your Love” from its original voice. As resonant, as ribald, as touching and complex as both Levon Helm and Rick Danko could be at the mic, no one in the Band could do what Richard Manuel did on songs like this — bring you all the way into his heart.
Considering the state of things, and the state of Manuel himself, this song stands today as a central triumph. Not just on Moondog Matinee, though that’s absolutely true, but also for Manuel himself. This may be his last best performance, and certainly stands as his most complete since at least “Sleeping.” “Richard was ‘in a period,’ as Rick would say, which meant that he was drinking pretty hard,” Helm remembered in This Wheel’s On Fire. “But once he got started, man: Drums, piano, play it all; sing, do the lead in one of them high, hard-assed keys to sing in. Richard just knew how a song was supposed to go. Structure, melody, he understood it.”
And, it seems, Manuel understood this triumph too, continuing to perform “Share Your Love” into his final period, and always imbuing it with visceral feeling. Today, however, everything about this track points to Manuel’s sad end for me — to that awful moment when he could go no further. It’s so unbearably sad now, this yearning. Like the very embodiment of everything that Manuel might have said, if someone had burst into that Florida hotel bathroom and stopped him in 1986.
I stare at the album’s original fold-out poster, a saloon setting from Edward Kasper that combines Helm’s old stomping grounds of Helena, Ark., with Robbie Robertson’s Cabbagetown, and I can’t take my eyes off Manuel. He’s apart, the only one lost in thought. Robertson is working the jukebox, Hudson and Helm are sharing a drink, Danko is reading a music magazine. But Richard is alone, thinking — staring off into the middle distance. It’s like he can see something, already, that I still haven’t come to grips with more than four decades later: Richard Manuel is already gone.
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