Islands was The Band’s last studio album until 1993, and the last to feature guitarist Robbie Robertson or pianist Richard Manuel. In some ways it’s more like a collection of leftovers than a studio album – some of these songs date back to 1972, and include songs like the group’s cover of Ray Charles’ ‘Georgia on my Mind’, recorded to support Jimmy Carter’s presidential bid in 1976. It is similar to Northern Lights – Southern Cross – most of the songs share that album’s smooth, mid-1970s’ sound.
As you’d expect, most of Islands feels like second tier material from The Band. Along with Manuel’s emotive reading of ‘Georgia On My Mind’, the standout track is Robertson’s seasonal ‘Christmas Must Be Tonight’, which is one of the best, most sincere Christmas songs in the pop music canon. There’s other enjoyable material like ‘The Saga Of Pepote Rouge’, another Robertson historical story, and the opening pair of ‘Right As Rain’ and ‘Street Walker’, but songs like the instrumental title track feel slight.
The Band reunited as a touring unit in the 1980s, and for three more studio albums in the 1990s, but without Robertson’s songwriting I have little interest in their later work. Islands is a competent, but unexciting, bookend to their initial lineup’s studio catalogue.