Thirty five years after The Last Waltz, very likely one of the most iconic concerts ever filmed, came a rather unique remembrance of the music of The Band. First released in 2011, and now being reissued by Curve Music, on this album Garth Hudson, an original member of The Band, brings together a collection of songs made famous by the group as interpreted by an amalgam of Canuck-only artists, some very well-known (Neil Young, Cowboy Junkies), others maybe less so (Doug Paisley), but all have put their mark on the album.
Down the years, there have been several well-intentioned attempts at covering the Band’s songs by a variety of artists, but this album is the first where any collection of songs by The Band have been curated and produced by a member of the group. The selections performed are taken from right the way across The Band’s career, from Big Pink (1968) to Jubilation (1998), including The Basement Tapes, and included a couple written by His Bobness. What’s nice is there are less obvious songs drawn from albums released towards the end of the group’s career, by which time Robbie Robertson had departed, and there are no covers of such obvious classics as The Weight, Long Black Veil & I Shall Be Released, and altogether every song performed amounts to a very fulsome tribute to an iconic band.
If you’re an ardent fan of The Band, however, you’ll need to listen to this album and accept what’s offered in the spirit intended by the artists, as some of the versions depart notably from the original albums. Neil Young rocks up This Wheel’s On Fire, The Shape I’m In by The Sadies is a very rocky affair and Chest Fever, from the classic Big Pink album, has none of the solemnity of the recorded version. Similarly, Hawksley Workman’s I Must Love You Too Much is handled as a classic rock track accompanied by a driving beat.
But others stick close to the narrative and have been handled delicately and beautifully, notably The Moon Struck One (Raina Maida), Out Of The Blue (Mary Margaret O’Hara), Arcadian Driftwood (Peter Katz & the Curious), Whispering Pines (Doug Paisley) and the delightful Sleeping (Bruce Cockburn).
Overall, if any one thing about this album stands out, it’s the contribution of Robbie Robertson, as he’s solely or partly responsible for composing probably two thirds or more of the songs covered here. But, ultimately, credit also has to go to Garth Hudson who, as well as playing keys on the tracks, has curated a fine collection of artists and songs in memory of a group who, in their heyday, could be described as seminal.