This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.
This is album retro-review number 159 in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and Cd albums in my collection.
The series is called “Cream of The Crate” and each review represents an album that I believe is of significant musical value, either because of it’s rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of music or because there is something unique about the group or the music.
Links to the previous 150 reviews can be found at the bottom of this review.
The retro-review features the The Band and the album is titled – Stage Fright.
The album was released on vinyl in August of 1970 on the Capitol label and it has the identifying code of SW-425.
This album is the Australian release by EMI and like all variations of the release it has has 10 tracks and the cover is a gatefold cover.
The album cover was considered as quite a winner among the “counter-culture”, and it adorned many a wall in a bedroom or in a shared house.
It opened out into a gatefold showing a sepia coloured picture of the five principal members of the group as they were then. Missing, and technically not a member of the band is John Simon – baritone horn, electric piano, piano, tenor saxophone, tuba.
The Band [1967 – formation year, to 1976]
- Rick Danko– bass, vocals, double bass, fiddle, trombone, guitar
- Levon Helm – drums, vocals, mandolin, guitar, bass
- Garth Hudson – organ, keyboards, saxophone, accordion, pedalboard, woodwinds, brass
- Richard Manuel– piano, vocals, drums, organ, marimba, lap slide guitar
- Robbie Robertson – guitar, vocals
After 1976 The Band underwent many changes through to 1999 when, they finally called it a day!
Clearly The Band were an extraordinary outfit, who were blessed not just with gifted musicians but were able to produce sublime harmonies.
Their first album, the 1968 Music From Big Pink, shook the music world and with tracks such as The Weight (maybe their best track ever) and the beautiful Dylan composition, I Shall Be Released.
It was hard to see how they could top that album.
Then 12 months later they bought out the self-titled album, The Band.
Often referred to as the “Brown Album” [ for obvious reasons], in my mind it has an even better spread of music than this album, with my favourites being Rag Mama Rag, the powerful, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, Up On Cripple Creek and, King Harvest.
That album remains my favourite and I was going to retro-review that one until I pulled it out of its sleeve and found that at sometime, somehow it had a serious crack in it.
So I will replace it for it is a magnificent piece of work, and put it into the “review” pile for later.
However, that doesn’t mean this album – Stage Fright, is not worthy of being in a Cream of The Crate, in fact it most certainly does.
It was not an album that received anywhere near the acclaim its predecessors received, in fact some critics actually panned it!
So before I make my overall judgements on it, I think we should examine it a little more closely.
It did reach the number 5 position on the Billboard album chart of that year and it did spawn a single that reached the giddy heights of number 77 on the Billboard singles charts.
We also need to remember it was also their third largest selling studio album of all ten albums they released.
So when we look a little closer we find an interesting mixture of music on the album, as if some members were looking for a slight change of direction, while others wanted to stay in the “Band Groove”.
1. Strawberry Wine 2:34
2. Sleeping 3:10
3. Time to Kill 3:24
4. Just Another Whistle Stop 3:48
5. All La Glory 3:31
1. The Shape I’m In 3:58
2. The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show 2:58
3. Daniel and the Sacred Harp 4:06
4. Stage Fright 3:40
5. The Rumor 4:13
I am probably going to upset some Band aficionados but in all honesty I found the first two tracks, Strawberry Wine and Sleeping, a little dreary and just lacking sparkle.
Track 3 – Time To Kill was the track released as a single and it is easy to see why.
The track was written by The Band’s resident guitarist, autoharpist, and songwriter Robbie Robertson, but then again, so are all the works on this album.
It is the first track on the album to have a little “pep” in it, and while by no means the best track on the album, it is a very good track.
It lacks a little structure but it is very catchy, although I wonder if it were released today whether it would even reach the number 77 position.
However we are talking 45 years ago and in many ways it does stand the test of time.
The many roads I’ve covered
The many trails I’ve burned
But when our paths did cross, love, whew
My whole world made a turn
And we’ve got time to kill
What a thrill
June and July
Buckets of the tears that we cried
Now we don’t cry no more
Gonna bolt the door
Don’t know what we’ve got
But it feels like a lot
We don’t need no more
When my day’s work is done
We can take in a jamboree
But I just wanna sit down by the fire
With my love right here beside me
We’ve got time to kill
Sweet by and by
We’ve got all our love
The sky above
The twinkle in your eye
Now where the wheel might roll
Is where my love and I shall go
We’re gonna plant the seed
There ain’t nothing we need
We found our own rainbow
My love wants to have her fortune read
And I know that she’s in a hurry
If we go along the straight and narrow
You don’t even have to worry
We’ve got time to kill
Go on, give it a try
We’ve got all our love
The trees are so high
We don’t need no big car
Don’t eat no caviar
When we come to rest
We take to the nest
You know where we are
Time To Kill
The following track is Just A Whistle Stop, and this is the “gem” on side 1 of the album.
There are many things to like about this track, and not the least is the fantastic lock-step rhythm work of Levon Helm and Rick Danko.
Robbie Robinson lays down some “shit-kicking” lead lines which are supported by the classic Lowery organ playing of Garth Hudson.
Its placement as track 4 is interesting, given the “simpler lifestyle” as embodied by the previous two tracks.
Observers at this time knew that there were undertones of discontentment within the group, and this track offers a trip away from danger aboard a glory-bound train — and apparently, just in time, as the law’s red wail is right behind.
The lyric writing has always been a strength of the group and when you understand that in his autobiography, Levon had written about this album as being about an album (and a time?) that is “about loss, and about the sweetness of success gone slightly sour.”, then it all takes on another possible meaning.
Yet the track really does have a great rhythmic urgency and is a track that is easy to listen to, and easy to appreciate.
Just Another Whistle Stop
The final track on this side of the album is, All The Glory.
A down-tempo track with a simple bass line and a beautiful phased guitar, it is certainly one of Levon’s great vocal tracks. It does provide yet another insight into just where The Band was, wanting to be away from the bright circle of fame that was so often focussed on them in this period.
It is a tender hearted and reverent piece that reminds us that The Band could absolutely play as sensitively as anyone.
Turn the album over and we are faced with five tracks, that provide between them a more upbeat selection, at least four of them do – the other? well . . . .
Track 1 is The Shape I’m In.
It is a driving pulse shaped track with the usual brilliant playing from the entire group. Written by Robbie Robinson, it was composed with pianist Richard Manuel in mind.
Richard Manuel, who also sings lead on the track, was terribly depressed for most of his life and the song lightly refers to this malady.
Incidentally, Manuel committed suicide in 1986.
The track features Manuel on lead vocals with Helm supporting him, and we are drawn to the breathy sigh that is used almost as an instrument rather than as a vocal addendum. It tells the story of a down-and-outer, recently out-of-jail, with no hope of redemption.
Go out yonder
Peace in the valley,
Come down town,
Got to rumble in the alley
Oh, you don’t know, The Shape I’m In
That line – “you don’t know the shape I’m in“, is delivered with genuine frustration.
A plaintive cry for help. We are left to wonder about the line, “head down to the water“? It would seem so symbolic of going down to be saved, to have your sins washed away, to find redemption.
In fact the whole track is filled with possible double meanings.
Now we shouldn’t lose track that The Band’s rhythm section was a powerful, driving force, as good as, if not better than any of their contemporaries. The whole rhythmic drive is edgy, aggressive almost- and the other instruments contribute to the rhythm section.
The Shape I’m In
Track 2 – The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show is a very good example of the blending of voices, the harmonies, that The Band were famous for.
The use of horns is quite brilliant as it certainly reinforces the imagery of an old time “medicine show” which were held in tents all around the US. It was a great place for you to place your faith in the healer, and his elixirs.
Track 3 – Daniel And The Sacred Harp has always been a favorite of mine.
Another fantastic Robinson narrative style track, it transforms us back into the time of the New Testament.
Levon Helm, singing with a heart-splashing openness, plays the role of the narrator while Richard Manuel is the desperate Daniel, willing to do anything for a chance to play the sacred instrument.
Nick Deriso, a very good music writer, wrote a great piece on this track and in it he said, “The price that Daniel had paid, he didn’t even know,” Helm cries, as the main character’s fate is sealed.
“When he looked to the ground,” Helm adds, “he noticed no shadow did he cast.” Knowing what we know, not just about Manuel’s sad fate but ultimately about the Band itself, that line remains a shattering, goose-pimpled moment.”
That is an excellent insight, and one we can take a tad further because the track also was a portend for the beginning of the end of a great period of The Band.
Incidentally, if it is possible to pick out two elements of the playing from what is a beautiful and tight arrangement, it might be Rick Danko’s sawing fiddle and the pump organ playing by Garth Hudson.
Daniel And The Sacred Harp
Then we are hit in the face with track 4 – Stage Fright.
This arguably may not be the best track on the album, but it is a very good one. In my opinion the track really should have been the last track on the album as it seems to pretty much sum up where the band was in at the time.
This song is a semi-rocking track song that is solid with rhythm but with little lead work in it. Again it features Rick’s tenor vocals and some more great organ playing by Garth.
With Robbie Robinson and guitar compatriot Richard Manuel basically just playing rhythm and Levon, who contributed his neat drum fills everywhere needed, it really is not a happy song, but it is most certainly a reflective one.
It very much sums up the probable state of mind of the group and for me, the feeling of the album, and that’s why I think it would have made a great final track.
While we are definitely entertained by the track we are left to ponder the real cost of “stardom”!
We come to the last track – The Rumour.
If I was being kind I’d say this track was understated – the truth of the matter it is terrible!
It borders on maudlin!
Look The Band were such a fantastic group, and this is the last of their really brilliant albums, so I will forgive this track and simply say no more about it.
So where are we when it comes to the album overall?
It certainly doesn’t flow as well as Big Pink, and it is not as powerful (sometimes almost overpowering) as the album,The Band – and in many ways that might just be its strength – it finds a middle path.
This album turned out to be The Band’s last “masterpiece”, and for many listeners it is energetic rock, laced with brilliant narratives, elements of those beautiful Band harmonies.
However, it is also mixed with a tad of resignation over what was, and, could have been.
The album is a must for band fans, and even casual listeners should consider having this great album in their collection.
The album is available widely, with second hand copies at an enormous range of prices depending upon condition. There is a CD remastered version with bonus tracks for $10 – $15.00, and, a recently re-released vinyl album, that comes in at around $45.00
There are very few clips of the Band performing tracks from this album, but here is what I could locate.
Time To Kill
The Shape I’m In [From the Last Waltz]
W.S Walcott Medicine Show
Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:
To view/listen the first 50 vinyl album reviews just click the image below –
To view/listen the first 50 Cd album reviews just click the image below –
To view/listen album reviews 101 – 150 just click the image below –
Click to open the following reviews covering #’s 151 onward.
#155. Billy Thorpe – Tangier