For a brief moment, as the Band’s career officially got underway on 1968′s Music from Big Pink, Richard Manuel held the spotlight completely. “Tears of Rage” was enough to convince anyone of his anguished genius.
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On an album that so often feels overcooked and too careful, the sloshy, gospel-gone-wrong of “4% Pantomime” lets it all hang down. That kind of loose camaraderie from the Band, so natural at first but by this point becoming an ever-more-rare occasion, was sorely missing elsewhere on 1971′s Cahoots.
Chasing down “Get Up Jake,” this dollop of hilarious country funk that outlines a crew’s failed attempts to rouse a boozy womanizing deckhand, is every bit as difficult as divining the concrete narrative on knotty fables like “The Weight.”
An album that underscored their growing individualization ends with one last blazing reminder of the way the Band’s voices once intertwined, the way their music provided a transportive solace, the way they once were — and sadly, it seems, never were again.
After a series of twilit ruminations, and very dire warnings, about the Band’s new rock-star lifestyle late into Stage Fright, perhaps this utterly scarifying parable was all but inevitable.
On its surface, this appears to be another of the Band’s searcher tales and, taken as only that, it’s easy to see why some may have been disappointed. The setting of an old-fashioned medicine show feels, at first, a little too on the nose
“The Shape I’m In,” despite its galloping cadence, finds the Band’s Robbie Robertson desperately attempting to reach out to the badly faltering Richard Manuel.
A song of dimly lit, strange salvation, “Just Another Whistle Stop” is a gem worth digging up for those who rarely get past the Band’s first two albums.
Richard Manuel’s greatest triumph on Stage Fright, and one of his last signature moments of creativity, arrives with “Sleeping” — as does the growing sense that this is a Band album like no other
“King Harvest,” the unforgettably sad tale of a besieged farmer, begins not with a scene-setting declaration, but with a quiet sense of forboding — one that returns for its out-of-time chorus