This is the iconic Band album; it’s often referred to as the Brown Album, due to the earthy tones on the cover. Even more than the previous album, it witnesses the group digging into increasingly rich interpretations of traditional music forms. The diversity on The Band is astounding; the album ranges from the hoe-down of ‘Rag Mama Rag’ and funk of ‘Up On Cripple Creek’ to the stateliness of ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’ and the languidness of ‘Rockin’ Chair’.
Robbie Robertson, who emerges as The Band’s main songwriter on the record, delves explicitly into American history in tracks like ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’ (a humanistic Southern perspective on the Civil War, prompted by a visit to drummer Levon Helm’s parents) and ‘King Harvest (Has Surely Come)’ (a tale of depression era poverty) while the souls of most of the other tracks are grounded somewhere in a bygone era. There’s also a tangible Biblical flavour to songs like ‘Unfaithful Servant’ and ‘Jawbone’, which adds a further sense of authority to proceedings.
The Band is stacked with classic songs; ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’ is the most iconic, but the more overlooked ‘King Harvest (Has Surely Come)’ is just as weighty, concluding with a terrific minimalist solo from Robertson. The more lighthearted ‘Rag Mama Rag’ and ‘Up On Cripple Creek’ are both wonderful, packing in some interesting textural experimentation; producer John Simon’s tuba provides the bass line for the former, while Garth Hudson cranks out funky leads with his clavinet hooked up to a wah-wah pedal for the latter. Pianist Richard Manuel contributes the beautiful and fragile ‘Whispering Pines’. There’s also a solid core of tracks in the next tier down, with the time signature hopping piano hook of ‘Jawbone’ and the bass line of ‘Look Out Cleveland’ both showcasing the musicians’ versatility.
The Band is an iconic album, full of iconic songs.