Garth Hudson, “Little Island” from The Sea to the North (2001): Across the Great Divide

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A Sea to the North, the debut solo album from brilliant multi-instrumentalist Garth Hudson, was appropriately cinematic. Over five earlier songs, he moved with this by-now-expected adeptness through a broad sweep of music styles, all while playing everything from pipe organ to sax to melodica to accordion. Then, there came this: A solo piece, recorded by Hudson on a Yamaha C6 acoustic piano.

“Little Island” closes things out on a perceptively romantic, sweetly ruminative note. The song is as confidential in its intellect as the rest of The Sea to the North was conspicuous, a whispered secret that is never heard exactly the same way twice. And, of course, the ever inventive, ever interior Garth Hudson would have it no other way. There are times when this sounds like a fun dance hall aside, like a conceptually challenging classical excursion, like a fizzy jazz thing, like a winking bordello kiss. You hear his whole career with the Band on “Little Island,” if you listen closely enough.

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Elsewhere, Sister Maud takes an ethereal vocal turn on “The Sea of Cyrus and Mulgrew,” the opening track on The Sea to the North. The Call, with whom Garth Hudson memorably worked early in their career, make important contributions to “The Breakers.” Levon Helm, Hudson’s old Band mate, turns in a fine performance on “Third Order.” The Crowmatix and Aaron Hurwitz, the latter of whom assisted with all of the Band’s 1990s-era recordings as well as Rick Danko’s Live On Breeze Hill, make important contributions throughout.

But I always, always come back to the particular joys of “Little Island.” On an album that justly earned accolades for touching upon every element of Garth Hudson’s roving genius, this grace-note finale often gets overlooked — probably because it echoes that fizzy inventiveness, but in a much more intimate fashion. It’s so close, so personal, that you can hear Hudson’s breath.

As such, it’s easy to fill in the margins around those keyboards with your own doodles. Garth Hudson’s “Little Island” doesn’t have the specifity of what came before on The Sea to the North, and thus it opens up whole worlds of images, of personal feelings. You can make it your very own.

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.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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