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The Band: Jubilation (River North)

by Roy Kasten

This review was first printed in the November / December 1998 issue of the "alternative country" magazine No Depression. Copyright © 1998 No Depression, Roy Kasten. Reprinted with permission.

Jubilation stands apart from The Band's other post-Robbie Robertson/Richard Manuel releases for the way, once again, rich worlds are revealed in each song. Recorded in Levon Helm's converted Woodstock barn, the settings are mostly acoustic, but full of live rock 'n' roll spontaneity, colliding voices and instruments. If no one song devastates as did, say Jerico's "Blind Willie McTell," the material feels passionately close to the musicians' hearts. Rick Danko has been singing Paul Jost's "Book Faded Brown" for years, and his voice has never been enveloped in more melancholy. Creditted to Kevin Doherty, Levon Helm and the Band, the second track, "Don't Wait," is a remarkable, timeless performance, one of three or four songs which hold their own with the group's best work of any era. Helm's voice is weathered to the bone -- he's recently been diagnosed with throat cancer, but appears to be recovering -- and he delivers the story with history, at once personal and vast:

Well, I was searching by myself
Singing old songs, see if they help
I took the low way, along the sea
Met an older man and he said to me,
"Sing me a song, son, lay it down
bring it forth then stand your ground"
It smelled like winter, it all felt fine
in that dry bone hazy late November time
Like "Daniel and the Sacred Harp," the song revises fateful encounters with music and the claims such devotion makes on the souls of performers and listeners. But beyond the lyrical depth rises the magical ensemble playing, the open-ended sound The Band all but invented. Helm's harmonica, Hudson's organ and accordion, and Danko's voice and acoustic bass have the graceful sweep of shared memories and visions. Piano rolls and mandolin trills will light on melodies and trail away; loose drums -- as often played by Randy Ciarlante as Helm -- will slap instinctively and tug at both heart and body; harmonies will enter, bow, and disappear. The guest spots by Clapton -- a curling, bass note rich lead on "Last Train to Memphis -- and legendary writer/singer Bobby Charles and John Hiatt are ultimately secondary here. And though as a touring act, The Band may have at times teetered near nostalgiadom, Jubilation finally and decisively reaffirms and expands their sound and soul.

-- Roy Kasten

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