After the musically and thematically ambitious The Band, Stage Fright is a much more modest and stripped back effort. The songs are much more personal, with the group telling their own stories rather than America’s stories; the title track is about Robertson’s struggle with stage fright in his career. While Manuel contributed some key tracks to the first two albums, he’s fading out of the picture as a writer here – he has two co-credits with Robertson, but they’re two of the less memorable tracks, and they’re not as infused with his personality like ‘Whispering Pines’ on the previous album. There’s still great playing and arrangements, as you’d expect, but it’s much more conventional than previously.
It’s indicative of the album that the best known songs are the mid-tempo rockers like the title track and ‘Time To Kill’ – they’re well written and expertly performed, like Hudson’s organ fills in the title track, but they’re very straightforward after the last album’s expansive palette. Other highlights include Robertson’s tale of new parenthood ‘All La Glory’ and ‘Daniel and the Sacred Harp’.
It’s hard not to be disappointed by a more modest approach after two amazing albums, but Stage Fright is a worthy album on its own terms.