Friday, December 01, 2006

album of the day

Music From Big Pink by The Band.

I wasn't alive in 1967, but it was the year of the Summer Of Love, of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Are You Experienced?, and assorted other general purple paisley psychedelic stuff. Not that I am in any way knocking either of the albums I've just mentioned, but they are both very much of their time. Whereas Music From Big Pink must have gone completely against the grain of the times - it's raw, rootsy, folky, all the things Sgt. Pepper isn't, for instance. Music legend has it that it was after hearing this album that Eric Clapton decided to break up his psychedelic blues-rock power trio Cream and concentrate on more low-key stuff (Blind Faith, Derek & The Dominos, his early solo work).

Generally bands like to have a bit of arresting up-tempo scene-setting opening an album - not here though, MFBP opens with the horribly curdled sound of Robbie Robertson's guitar fed through a Leslie speaker which opens the funereal Tears Of Rage. A few more up-tempo numbers follow, including The Weight, which was featured in Easy Rider (though it wasn't The Band's version), became a minor UK hit single and remains their best known song. Later highlights include the ghostly Long Black Veil, Chest Fever's steaming Phantom Of The Opera-style organ intro, the original version of This Wheel's On Fire (co-written by bass player Rick Danko and Bob Dylan) and Richard Manuel's haunting falsetto rendition of Dylan's I Shall Be Released. It's all strangely timeless, in the same way as modern folk artists like Gillian Welch or Kate Rusby. Outside of the recording studio these people obviously live perfectly normal modern lives with kettles, digital watches, etc. etc., but listening to the music it's hard not to picture them in some sepia-toned scene, walking along behind an ox-drawn plough strumming a banjo.

Clearly it's an exercise in shooting fish in a barrel to bemoan the state of modern popular music, but this was a top-30 album (its follow-up, the eponymous "sepia" album, went top 10) which included the following (this is Long Black Veil in its entirety):
Ten years ago, on a cold dark night
There was someone killed 'neath the town hall light
There were few at the scene, but they all did agree
That the man who ran looked a lot like me

The judge said: son, what is your alibi
If you were somewhere else, then you won't have to die
I spoke not a word, though it meant my life
I had been in the arms of my best friend's wife

She walks these hills in a long black veil
She visits my grave where the night winds wail
Nobody knows, nobody sees
Nobody knows but me

The scaffold was high, and eternity near
She stood in the crowd and shed not a tear
But sometimes at night, when the cold wind moans
In a long black veil, she cries over my bones

She walks these hills in a long black veil
She visits my grave where the night winds wail
Nobody knows, nobody sees
Nobody knows but me
That's three short verses and a couple of choruses that tells a whole story; a masterpiece of lyrical concision. And it's not even The Band's song - it's a country standard written back in 1959.

Speaking of Kate Rusby, as I was, I watched a small amount of Jennifer Saunders' new sitcom Jam And Jerusalem the other day. Nothing much to say about the programme itself, which irritated me in a similar way to The Vicar Of Dibley, but the theme tune appeared to be a cover of The Kinks' The Village Green Preservation Society sung by the divine Ms Rusby. Those crystal-clear Barnsley vowels are unmistakable. She seems to be making a bit of a bit for world domination at the moment, as I seem to remember her releasing a duet with Ronan Keating earlier in the year. Which doesn't sound a very appealing prospect to me, but anything which brings her to a wider audience must be a good thing.

1 comment:

Andy said...

Kate Rusby, Ray Davies and Dawn French.

As Jim Steinman once said: Two out of three aint bad...