Endless Highway - The Music of the Band

2007-06-20 16:20
"What connects Robbie Robertson, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Muddy Waters, Dr. John, Van Morrison, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Ronnie Wood, Paul Butterfield and Neil Diamond?" The answer to this puzzling question is an answer that's even more likely to puzzle the non-rock fan: "The Band".

"What band?" they'll ask. This will horrify fans of The Band, an actual band called "The Band", blamed by folk fans for ruining Dylan (they backed him when he went rock), loved for their album The Big Pink, and famous for a star-studded live performance that director Martin Scorsese immortalised in his rockumentary The Last Waltz (also an album Band fans constantly force you to listen to, and every track of which has been covered by hacks and superstars alike.) Well it's been 30 years since that performance, so this tribute album is inevitable.

What's surprising is how good many of the tracks are, and the calibre of band playing on it. Rather than featuring only oldies who got high with The Band way back when, Endless Highway pulls in a few cool college rockers, some wrinklies and a smattering of folk types to do their versions of big Band numbers.

Nobody's likely to agree on which covers are classics, and which fail to match up. Luckily, we know best. So if you're downloading for your MP3 player, go for the trendy Guster's version of "This Wheel's on Fire", Gomez doing "Cripple Creek", Steve Reynolds' low-fi version on "Stage Fright", Lizz Wright and Jakob (son of Bob) Dylan on "Whispering Pines", Trevor Hall's "Life is a Carnival" and Death Cab for Cutie's "Rocking Chair". But you may disagree.

That said, none of the tracks are bad, exactly. The Band's songs are the result of very different musical styles melting to make something new. They're songs that are made to be sung by anyone who loves them, and take very well to any artist's touch.

Worst case scenario, this compilation will have you reaching for your copy of The Big Pink... or rushing to a record store to see if you can hear the originals. Now, is that such a bad thing?

- Jean Barker
Despite a few disappointments, some amazing moments and the simple brilliance of The Band's songs make this more than just another tiresome tribute album. At times it's refreshing and wonderful. The rest of the time, it's not bad at all.

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