Jubilation Liner Notes
by Greil MarcusThe liner notes for The Band's 1998 album Jubilation was posted in The Band guestbook in August 1998, by Bill Paige from The Band's label River North Records. This text is copyrighted, please do not copy or redistribute.
In the first pictures of the Band, taken thirty years ago by Elliott Landy, five young men pose in neat black suits with string ties and weathered hats; Garth Hudson braces his fiddle against his chest, mountain-style. The quintet looks less like any pop group of that day – or this one – than, say, the New Lost City Ramblers of 1958, or one of the 1920s old-time music groups, the Tar Heels or the Skillet Lickers, that the New Lost City Ramblers themselves were trying to look like.
Now, a decade after the Band made a second founding, with Richard Bell, Randy Ciarlante, and Jim Weider joining original members Hudson, Rick Danko, and Levon Helm, something of a truly old-timey sound feels like the engine of the Band’s new music.
There might be a call back to the past in the words or merely the titles of any number of the new songs on Jubilation: in “Book Faded Brown,” “White Cadillac,” “French Girls.” But the rickety feeling of the faster rhythms, the way voices curl together around lines that can carry no date (“Ain’t that somethin’/ The big doghouse thumpin’”) is at once old and unheard, a sound that only has to be heard for the first time to feel as if it’s being remembered.
In “Last Train to Memphis,” the train feels like it’s being held together by rubber bands and chicken wire, but you have no doubt you can get on whenever you like or that you’ll pull in on time. An ensemble comes together – the Band forms – as you listen, with the picture of a string band chasing a full moon out from behind the clouds framed by Eric Clapton’s electric guitar, the song ending a movie you’ve seen all your life, and have never seen at all.
“Films about America should be composed entirely of long and wide-shots, as music about America already is,” the German film director Wim Wenders once wrote; this is what he was talking about. Unless he was talking about “White Cadillac,” like so much of the music here bound up and sent forth by Hudson’s accordion, which in any given moment can sound like almost any other instrument. Here the music is running on pure Cajun cooking oil, as for an instant the spectre of 63-year-old Ronnie Hawkins, the Band’s first mentor, trumps a 63-year-old Elvis Presley – or even the 33-year-old version. “Camelwalk, back-flip, mohair what a touch” – it’s a shout made by voices from all over the room.
Jubilation is the seriously comic absurdity of Clarence “Frogman” Henry’s “Ain’t Got No Home” in what the Band do with “You See Me,” Allen Toussaint’s perfect version of New Orleans walk-and-talk; it’s the way Danko’s singing on “Book Faded Brown” grows more quiet, more still, every time the song plays.
But Jubilation is also about music that remains to be found, as summed up in “French Girls,” Hudson’s solo improvisation on synthesizer and soprano and tenor saxophones. It comes from a melody Hudson first worked out in 197l, for lyrics by Jean-Yves Labat: “I said to him, give me words about two French guys sitting outside at a cafe, talking about an old girlfriend they had both admired, someone who was elegant and sweet.”
The lyrics were lost; you don’t need them to be sitting in that cafe, wondering who will pass by next, or where you’ll go when you rise from your table and move on to whatever new story the day holds.
The Band is: