"Cryin' Heart Blues"
Nowadays we would call the music rootsrock, so I guess the members of The Band were rootsrockers avant-la-lettre. All excellent instrumentalists, they were blessed with quite some vocal talent among them too. One of the reasons their music still remains so influential, is that they were admired by fellow musicians, up until today the young singers and players love to cover songs written by The Band, before they were even born!
And yet there's new material available... Rick Danko released his debut solo album only two years after "The Last Waltz" came out and it -although a masterpiece- was still sadly overshadowed. This can be considered as the long-overdue follow-up: "Cryin' Heart Blues". The songs Rick had in mind for his second solo album, that was never released due to a decision of some head honchos at his record label. Plus some recently discovered studio work and a few fine live-tracks!
The disc starts off with a live-recording (with Tommy Spurlock on lapsteel) of classic "Mystery Train", written by Sam Philips and Junior Parker. The following two tracks, Robbie Robertson's "Twilight" and Paul Kennerly's "When I Get My Just Rewards", showcase the breathtakingly beautiful voice of Danko. Recorded in a Hollywood studio with Garth Hudson (keyboards), Sneaky Pete Kleinow (pedal steel guitar) and Tommy Spurlock on the lapsteel again. Then it heads into a poppier direction with a richer production, not so strange for a probable recording date in 1978. Blondie Chaplin enters the picture here, in songwriting credits, on guitar and piano. "Cheatin' Heart" comes in demo and final version, "Don't Make Promises" surprises in its funkiness, originally just a "run-through" with incomplete vocals, it was completed by Blondie Chaplin in 2005. Danko originals "It's Alright, It's O.K." and "Old Mexico" -with catchy, improvised on keys South-of-the-border feel indeed- were also recorded in 1978, with yet another group of musicians, there's even a saxophone played enthusiastically, while Joe Brown's "Cryin' Heart Blues" got the stripped-down (acoustic guitar) treatment.
"New Mexico" features surprise guest guitarists, named on the tape box as Eric, Ron and Pete. "It's a pretty safe bet that Eric's surname is Clapton and Ron's surname is Wood. Pete however remains a question mark", the liner notes explain. Any ideas about Pete, music lovers? The last four songs on the CD can be considered another highlight: a rocking live-recording (they used a multi-track mobile studio) from 1979 with Blondie Chaplin, Richie Hayward and the legendary Paul Butterfield on harmonica! They play "Brainwash", a fun "Java Blues", Robbie Robertson's "Unfaithful Servant" -truly soulful- and then the album closes off with "Mystery Train" again, in a rousing version!
I don't know about you, but I would buy this CD already if it only contained six or seven of the seventeen tracks... Allow me to close off with a wonderful part from the liner-notes (written by CoraZong's Bert de Ruiter): "Let me ask you-- now that "The Last Waltz" is over, what are you going to do?" The question is posed to singer/bassist Rick Danko by director Martin Scorsese in "The Last Waltz", the 1976 film that chronicles the break-up of The Band. "I don't know" is the response. "Just make music, you know..." Twenty-three years later, and a similar query is posed, the last question in the last interview Rick Danko will give. It is December 7th, 1999, three days before he, at 56, will die in his sleep. "What is in the future for you at this point?" Danko doesn't hesitate. "I'm just making music, you know?"
(Also available on CoraZong Records for fans of The Band: Rick Danko's "Times Like These" and Garth Hudson's "The Sea To The North".)
Written by Johanna J. Bodde, June 2007.
"Whispering Pines - Live At The Getaway 1985"
Almost all of those great bands from the late sixties and early seventies had this one member, who became the troubled genius, passing away too early. For The Band that was Richard Manuel. He vocally opened The Band's debut "Music From Big Pink" with "Tears Of Rage", his co-write with Bob Dylan. Manuel's voice is also the last one heard on that classic album: a lonesome, quavering falsetto on "I Shall Be Released". When the second LP "The Band" was released in 1969, Richard Manuel again was the vocalist on the opening and closing tracks, "Across The Great Divide" and "King Harvest (Has Surely Come)". From there on fame, constant touring, some rivalry within the group and high expectations began building more & more pressure on The Band's members. One of the results was that Richard Manuel stopped writing songs, he also seemed to encounter quite some trouble with his voice. In 1976 The Band's grand farewell concert was documented in Martin Scorsese's film "The Last Waltz". After that, Manuel disappeared for several years from the public eye. It was Rick Danko who started to take him out on the road again, but on March 4th 1986, while touring with the reunited Band, Richard Manuel died in a motel room in Winter Park, Florida.
Less than half a year earlier, on October 12th 1985, he played at The Getaway in Saugerties, NY. The sound engineer, Andy Robinson, popped a tape in the soundboard and recorded the show... That's what finally became this CD! The sound quality is surprisingly good, it might take a little while getting used to the somewhat odd effect of the soundboard recording. Not for my generation, we all still have drawers full of live-tapes, after years of sweettalking engineers into recording our favorites, followed by a carefully planned trade with fellow fans in other cities along the European tour schedule... It's still the best way to hear an intimate live performance and it also works wonderful here for Richard Manuel, playing in a club near his home.
Intense, real, direct, soulful. He obviously had fun that night, joking with the pleased audience and his friends. He played the piano, his voice was in good shape, a couple of slightly weaker falsetto parts and one forgotten line can easily be forgiven. The concert began with a swinging "Grow Too Old" and featured standards like "Georgia On My Mind", an impressive "You Don't Know Me" and "Miss Otis Regrets". Two instrumentals, Dylan's "I Shall Be Released", "Tears Of Rage" of course and JJ Cale's "Crazy Mama". And yes, also The Band songs he became famous with! Rick Danko joined him (on vocals and guitar) for various tracks, so did Jim Weider (guitar) and Sredni Vollmer (harmonica). I think what he did right after the break, by himself, is most moving: "The Shape I'm In" and it was already my favorite song by The Band!
After three encores ("Across The Great Divide" is played again in another line-up), the CD closes off with a few instrumental piano pieces, recorded elsewhere and a fun track: Richard Manuel playing harmonica, in duet with Mitzi the dog on "vocals", accompanied by Helm, Hudson and Danko.
A must-have for fans of The Band, nicely digipacked with extensive liner notes by CoraZong's Bert de Ruiter (I just quoted a little bit, there's more...) and wonderful words by Band mates and Eric Clapton. Richard Manuel was the only member of The Band who didn't make a solo album, this live-CD fills that gap very nicely!
Written by Johanna J. Bodde, June 2007.