Album of the Week: Music From Big Pink

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Can you imagine the shock waves that this album caused upon its release in 1968? At the height of the psychedelic rock era? Some critics have suggested that it spawned the "Americana" music movement. George Harrison and Eric Clapton even cited The Band and this album as steering their future careers via their/its "roots" sound. In fact, Clapton was so knocked out by them, he wanted to join them.

"I was given an acetate of Big Pink back in England and it shook me to the core," he said during a press conference at the Toronto International Film Festival to promote his doc, Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars.

"I was in Cream at the time with already the notion that it wasn't going in the right direction, and I thought, well this is what it is. I knew who (guitarist) Robbie Robertson was but I didn't realize that was their group. I thought they just appeared. I thought they were all from the Mississippi Delta."

Clapton even went as far as traveling to Woodstock to "jam" with The Band, but alas they were quite happy with Robbie on lead guitar. Clapton was so inspired that he wold quit Cream and begin his own solo career odyssey.

As far as debut albums, it doesn't get much better than this for any act. Certainly helps to have had the opportunity to tour, play and record with Bob Dylan prior to recording this masterpiece. The opening track, the epic and ragged love ballad "Tears of Rage," co-written by Dylan and Richard Manuel, sets the tone for what is to follow. It's easy to get lost in the ramshackle vibe and synergy that was created by Robbie Robertston (guitar), Rick Danko (bass, vocals), Richard Manuel (keyboards, vocals), Levon Helm (drums, vocals) and Garth Hudson (keyboards and accordion).  John Simon's production has so much breathe that you feel like you're literally sitting in the middle of the studio. The new remix and remastering adds additional subtle tonal hues that draw the listener in. Their inter-band harmony vocals have never sounded more ragged or more beautiful. The interweaving of the keyboards, guitar, bass, and drums from song to song hangs together like master paintings inside a national art gallery. 

Can you imagine what it must have been like hearing any of these songs on the radio back in the day? Robbie Roberston's beloved classic "The Weight" — a traveling song about Robbie visiting the Martin guitar factory in “Nazareth” Pennsylvania and written on a Martin guitar — has stood the test of time as one of the greatest songs ever committed to vinyl. And the album closes with two majestic Dylan tracks -- "This Wheel's on Fire" by Dylan and Danko and another Dylan timeless classic, the redemptive gospel-fueled ballad "I Shall Be Released." These two tracks, along with others on The Band’s debut, were born during The Basement Tapes rehearsals and recordings that gave birth to this majestic album.

It was no happy accident that Music from Big Pink would usher in a new sound. Moreover, it would be the first of many extraordinary albums they would record and share with the world. With the release of this remixed and remastered two-LP set on 180-gram 45 r.p.m. vinyl, Capitol may usher in a whole new generation of singer-songwriters, musicians, and bands to follow suit. Music should be inspirational, and music this well conceived and executed should continue to inspire and inform musicians and listeners alike. 

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