Crossing the Great Divide
By Pat BrennanFrom three entries posted in The Band guestbook, January 1998.
Since Crossing the Great Divide seems to be a hot topic, I thought I'd shed a little light. First off, it's three discs, each clocking around 70 minutes. Typical Scorpio packaging, meaning excellent. Double gatefolds, interesting color pictures, including group and single shots. The enclosed booklet is the Goldmine article on the Band from 1991.
To the music. Disc One, titled What a Party, includes 24 Tracks. The first three, "What A Party", "Farther Up The Road", and "She's Nineteen" are all high quality Levon & The Hawks studio cuts. Levon on vocals on all three. The first is a teen beat confection with a female chorus, but the next two are very bluesy R&B with a lot of Robbie guitar work. "You Don't Know Me" comes from a live Texas tape with Richard doing his Ray Charles; fair quality but great vocals. "Leave Me Alone" is a quasi-Bo Diddly thing with Levon and Richard having some fun, a single recorded as the Canadian Squires. "He Don't Love You" and "The Stones I Throw" were a Hawks single from 1965. The former was on the Across the Great Divide box set, and the latter is generally regarded as the first " Band-ish" thing they recorded.
"Number One" is an instrumental recorded with Dylan, generally a groove waiting for lyrics with lots of Garth on organ. "Baby Let Me Follow You Down" is from the Guitars Kissing... Dylan boot, the infamous Royal Albert Hall release - in reality, Manchester Free Trade Hall.
The remaining 13 cuts are all Basement Tapes cuts; stuff like "Yazoo Street Scandal", "Orange Juice Blues" with and without vocals, two versions of "Beautiful Thing", and two versions of "You Say You Love Me." These all sound like the latest release of the Basement Tapes, very clean, in some cases startlingly so. In fact, When the quality is poor, other considerations make the choices obvious, as in Richard's vocals on "You Don't Know Me." The various early singles sound great, the best versions I've heard.
Disc Two - The Crackers "Time To Kill" - starts with three Basement Tapes tunes: "Katie's Been Gone", other versions of both "Ruben Remus" and "Yazoo Scandal". The next two are classics: the famous studio versions of "Get Up Jake" and "Don't Do It." Great quality, enough said. I must admit that I'm a little disappointed here. There's a great boot of "We Can Talk About It Now" with a bunch of takes; at least one or two should have been included here.
Next comes two Woodstock performances: "Don't Ya Tell Henry" and Richard on "Tears of Rage." Good quality, etc. "Highway 61" is with Dylan at Isle of Wight; for quality, see "Minstrel Boy/Rolling Stone" from Dylan's Self Portrait. "Dixie/Across The Great Divide" from the classic boot Real Old Time Band, a 1970 Hollywood Bowl performance. Audience tape but classic. The next 8 are Rock of Ages outtakes. By the way, the packaging is wrong here, the disc ends with "I Shall Be Released". Some of the Dylan performances from one of the evenings have surfaced, and the quality is similiar to those. Somewhat rawer than the Rock of Ages album stuff, giving rise to the overdub question. Most interesting is the version of "Smoke Signal", a rather overlooked cut from Cahoots that rips here. Also, a great version of "Rockin' Chair." I'm surprised at the absence of "The Weight" on this disc.
Disc Three - The Band "Share Your Love" - begins with two Rock of Ages outtakes: "Caledonia Mission" and "Loving You (Is Sweeter Than Ever)". Next is Richard doing "Share Your Love" from Roosevelt Stadium. Poor quality but Richard's voice haunts. I recall a Watkins Glen boot with superior sound. Two Planet Waves outtakes: two instrumentals, one unnamed and "Crosswind Jamboree". Three cuts follow from the Madison Square Garden stop on the '74 Dylan tour: "King Harvest", "Rag Mama Rag" and "Wheel's on Fire." This was a heavily booted tour and the quality here is typical, although I have a Boston performance that seems markedly better.
The original Band material ends with "It Makes No Difference" and "Don't Do It" from the recent Last Waltz collection. This is very disappointing. There are any number of great boots from the mid-70's, especially the Palladium show in '76 with horns. The Northern Lights Southern Cross stuff from those tours - "Forbidden Fruit", "Ophelia", "Ring Your Bell", and "Twilight" (Yeah, I know, it's an outtake from NLSC) - all burn big time and give lie to the critics harping that the group was stagnant and over the hill towards the end.
"Long Black Veil" from the '83 comeback and a 1988 "The Weight" with Dylan ends the live material. Four demos from Jericho end the disc. I really think the compilers missed a chance to highlight NLSC and demonstrate what a monstrous live ensemble the Band had become. I also have heard tunes from their first performance as the Band, especially a rare version of "Little Birds." Something from there should have been included. Despite my qualms, I recommend the collection to any Band fan. It ain't perfect, far from it, but the early stuff is enlightening, "Jake/Don't Do It" is crucial, and the Rock of Ages material is wonderful. Amen.