Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Band- Jubilation

The Band, one of the most important musical groups of the late 60s and early to mid 70s began recording again in 1993 without Robbie Robertson (who had presumed the group to be over after 1976's "The Last Waltz") and vocalist Richard Manuel, who committed suicide in 1986 during one of the reunited Band's tours (in which Robertson did not participate). Their first album without Robertson, "Jericho" was one of the best surprises of 1993, and one of their strongest studio efforts, with the additions of new members but longtime cohorts Jim Weider, Richard Bell, and Randy Ciarlante. Along with 1995's "High On the Hog," The Band had produced two fine studio efforts full of rich musical landscapes but, with few exceptions, neither had really expressed the emotions of the group's history together. With 1998's "Jubilation" however, The Band may not have had a choice. Vocalist Levon Helm was ailing with throat cancer and it was now a full 30 years since the group had made their debut with 1968's "Music From Big Pink," a record which took the music world by storm. Faced with these facts, The Band delivers the most reflective and honest of their post-Last Waltz recordings. "Jubilation" is one of The Band's finest hours.

The disc begins fittingly with 'Book Faded Brown,' a description of the virtues of family, which is exactly what The Band and the friends that guest on the album have become. The song features vocalist/bassist Rick Danko's fragile, emotional voice which accurately describes The Band's personal state; Helm's voice is rapidly suffering but he bravely wails his heart out on rockers like 'Last Train To Memphis' and 'Kentucky Downpour,' or on more subtle pieces like the poignant 'Don't Wait.' Also of note is the fact that the Band-members have contributed more to the songwriting than on the previous two albums, resulting in very personal, reflective songs and jubilant celebrations; the care-free 'High Cotton' is as genuine a slice of Americana as anything the group did in their early days, and the salute to their first mentor Ronnie Hawkins 'White Cadillac' certainly fits on this album. Friend John Hiatt's 'Bound By Love' is a nice addition, but the song that will blow loyal fans away the most is the stirring 'If I Should Fail,' a personal anthem of being downtrodden and surrounded, against the odds, and it features Rick Danko's second-best performance on a 90s Band album (the best being 'Too Soon Gone' from "Jericho"). Longtime member and multi-instrumentalist Garth Hudson ends things with a wistful instrumental puzzlingly titled 'French Girls.'

"Jubilation" certainly revealed a group that knew the odds were against them; Danko's death a year later ended The Band's career. Though they still have a loyal following, the critics (and even Robbie Robertson) will probably never give the post-reunion Band's work the respect it deserves. But anyone who takes this hard fact to heart can find comfort in knowing that The Band probably realized it too, and their bravery throughout is admirably shown on their final fight, "Jubilation."

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