Rick Danko, “Driftin’ Away” from Danko / Fjeld / Andersen (1991): Across the Great Divide

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Rick Danko, for all of his easy grins and folky tomfoolery, could dive to the bottom of your heart — could summon a depth of hurt that illustrated his own emotional complexity — and with only a moment’s notice. “Driftin’ Away,” the opening track to 1991’s Danko / Fjeld / Anderson, was like that.

The song begins with the trio (rounded out by Jonas Fjeld and Eric Andersen) establishing the song’s chorus and tone, singing together in a burst of oaken fortitude. It’s nearly a minute before Danko moves forward to occupy the song’s spotlight, singing an ever-darkening lyric he co-wrote with Anderson and his wife Elizabeth Danko. Initially, it’s only for a verse — but just that quickly, a heartbroken Danko gives “Driftin’ Away” its reason for being.

When he returns, just as interestingly, it’s with none of that initial devastating quietude, though. By the track’s three-minute mark, Rick Danko has gathered himself toward a hardening stoicism. He wills the lyric forward toward its inevitable rebuke, summoning every part of his craft in a fashion that was as complete as it was surprising.

After all, his solo recording career had lain largely dormant since a promising late-1970s debut. But Danko/Fjeld/Andersen was part of a striking resurgence for Danko.

That began with a string of signature concert appearances, with Ringo Starr’s first All-Starr Band, at Roger Waters’ Berlin Wall concert, at Bob Dylan’s 30th Anniversary Celebration, at Woodstock. Just weeks after this trio album’s belated 1993 U.S. release, Danko’s long-hoped-for studio effort with the Band — now centered on a core trio featuring Danko, Levon Helm and Garth Hudson — arrived in the form of the well-received Jericho.

“Driftin’ Away” didn’t herald that comeback so much as solidify things. This is Rick Danko, even appearing once again in a group setting, at the absolute top of his game.

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.

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