The Best of A Musical History
Review by Peter Viney, April 2007
The track listing is presumably dictated by the existence in print of The Band: Greatest Hits in the 2000 remasters series, which is the only compilation listed in the discography on The Best of A Musical History sleeve.
The two compilations share only five tracks, The Weight, King Harvest, Stage Fright, I Shall Be Released and Life is A Carnival. The absence of the more obvious "greatest hits", such as Chest Fever, Up on Cripple Creek, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, Rag Mama Rag, It Makes No Difference, Acadian Driftwood and Ophelia is explained by a desire to ensure that the new compilation doesn't simply replace the earlier one, but sits alongside it. There's nothing on it that isn't on the A Musical History box set.
The new one is largely chronological, except for I Shall Be Released, and contains nothing from Northern Lights, Southern Cross which was adequately represented on the 2000 compilation, nor anything from Islands.
At first sight the Brown album appears under-represented, but you do get Rockin' Chair on the DVD. As Twilight isn't on The Greatest Hits, and only appeared on deleted compilations, it's sad that the demo version, interesting as it is, replaces the Rick Danko lead vocal version issued as a single.
As its purpose is to showcase the A Musical History box set, it's slewed towards the rarer tracks. Robbie Robertson seems to agree that the B-side He Don't Love You is the best representation of Levon & The Hawks, and to me he's right.
The normal accusation about Band compilations (that Robbie favours his own compositions) is belied by the inclusion of Richard Manuel's Orange Juice Blues and Rick Danko's Home Cookin. Richard also gets featured vocalist spots on Share Your Love With Me and 4% Pantomime, but I suspect that the latter is included for its Van Morrison connection and groove rather than for its rather mundane melody.
The tracks are well annotated, but we don't get new sleeve notes. The cover design is great.
So how does it play as an album? In spite of I Shall Be Released and All La Glory and Twilight, it comes across as far "rockier" than any Band studio album with less light and shade. I guess it starts off that way, but it continues. If you see it as a companion piece to Greatest Hits the change in emphasis is no problem.