For this post, I would like to go way back to the Band’s Music from Big Pink. Released on July 1, 1969, Music from Big Pink was an extension of the almost equally amazing Basement Tapes from Bob Dylan. For all the hubbub over the British Invasion, Big Pink threw an hearty slice of Americana into the face of the late 60’s zeitgeist; ironically, the Band was almost entirely Canadian.
Soaring organs, disjointed guitars and a little bit of echo define this classic gem. The vocals are fragile and wistful, while the harmonies simultaneously find a perfect unity and pull apart at the seams. Combined with Dylan’s run of John Wesley Harding–Nashville Skyline–New Morning, the Rolling Stones’ albums where they chased down the Memphis sound and the string of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young records, the pristine, late 60’s folk rock vibe has a half-life that extends beyond my lifetime. It’s a total folkapocalypse…
The horns dominate “Tears of Rage,” while they nail the guitar/organ combo. “Tears of Rage” is one of three Bob Dylan penned tracks on the record, along with “This Wheel’s on Fire” and “I Shall Be Released.” “To Kingdom Come” has a more rollicking backbeat that opens up the vocal interplay that defines the rest of the record. “In a Station” features a nice slide guitar part that sounds like it could have been played by George Harrison; not surprisingly, this is the song that most closely ties this album (and the hearty slice of Apple Pie it represents) to the sound of the Beatles. “Caledonia Mission” is a great story-song. “The Weight” is the best-known song on the album, and it would be a highlight on any great album. “And… and… and… you put the load right on me.” It doesn’t get much better than that, right?
Well, “We Can Talk” comes pretty close, except for the lyric “But did you ever milk a cow? (milk a cow) I had the chance one day, but I was all dressed up for Sunday” which always jumps out as being a standout slice of oddness. “Long Black Veil” may very well be my favorite song on the album. I should repeat (so it’s painfully clear) that I am a sucker for a good story song. Then after that wistful rush, the constant creep of the organ on “Chest Fever” rolls in. Yet again on “Chest Fever,” you can see spartan but unorthodox use of horns, so I would put for the argument that without Big Pink, you would never have a record like In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. “Lonesome Suzie” is another story song ballad. “This Wheel’s on Fire” and “I Shall Be Released” close the album on an insanely high note: a double-shot of Dylan.
I can’t imagine a better album to listen to going into the Fourth of July. Big Pink is such an American record that I can hardly recognize it. It’s a record for Buffalo Bill or Calamity Jane. Each song is a portrait of a time and a place that I can only relate to on an abstract/imaginary level. This is John Ford’s America, but I can’t stop listening to it. I recommend listening to this on a portable CD player, drinking a beer, while laying out it on your yard looking up at the stars. It’s the kind of record you can get lost to. It’s beautifully cinematic and emotive. It ebbs and flows perfectly though each song, and it begs for a repeat.
[Editor’s note: Brendan had this queued for the 4th, we just didn’t get it up on that day. Sorry.]