First Appeared in The Music Box, October 1998, Volume 5, #10
Written by John Metzger
On September 15, in celebration of the 30th anniversary of Music from Big Pink, The Band released its 10th studio album Jubilation on River North Records. The disc features original members Levon Helm, Rick Danko, and Garth Hudson as well as guest appearances by Eric Clapton and John Hiatt. As with The Band's past two albums, Jubilation was produced by Aaron Hurwitz. It's been a decade since The Band reformed with keyboardist Richard Bell, drummer Randy Ciarlante, and guitarist Jim Weider. While the group's last two discs Jericho and High on the Hog were respectable though uneven efforts, on Jubiliation all of the pieces seem to have fallen into place. It's certainly been a long time since the group has sounded this good.
This is partially due to The Band's continued perseverance with producer Hurwitz, allowing him to further explore the intricacies of the its musical personality. It's also a sure bet that the group drew from the exhilarating energy emanating from the 30th anniversary of Music from Big Pink, a fact that is only further enhanced by recording the new disc in a converted Woodstock barn during the first half of this year. But it's also the collective's strongest batch of songs in ages.
"You want to play a good song," says Helm. "When you get a good pulse for a song, there's a figure along the bottom that kind of moves the tune along, and you like the things that it does to your feet. If I can make it irresistible for you, if I can just make the song so good that you couldn't stand to not hear it, then that's what I'm supposed to do."
That's just what happens throughout Jubilation. The Band fully connects with its material, recapturing the magic and glory of its past. It's remarkably familiar, yet vibrant and fresh. The album opens with a drum beat that rolls into the sound of Hudson's accordion, and then Danko begins to sing Book Faded Brown. This is The Band at its best — an old-time sound turned into a laid-back, sweet, peaceful, and honest groove.
High Cotton is perhaps the most infectious tune on the Jubilation, and it captures the feel of a joyous, upbeat, and successful harvest. Last Train to Memphis, which features Eric Clapton on guitar, chugs across America under the hot sun of a driving rhythm, and If I Should Fail is a desperate plea for companionship.
On White Cadillac The Band pays tribute to its first mentor Ronnie Hawkins. With its rolling cadence and honky-tonk piano, the song recalls the group's rockabilly days as The Hawks.
Jubiliation is indeed a return to the past for The Band. The new songs reconnect the group with the American frontier — something it has struggled to do since its first two albums. Yet, Jubilation also has a remarkably appealing sense of urgency that's pure and true. The music rings freely with passion, conviction, and confidence that should not only win back many of its old fans, but also should harvest a few new ones.
Jubilation is available from Amazon.com.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 1998 The Music Box