Garth Hudson: The Sea to the North
Review by John Donabie
Posted in The Band guestbook, June 2001.
It has been twenty one years since Our Lady Queen of the Angels
(subtitled "A Celebrational Environment by
Tony Duquette") circulated and found itself in the hands of serious collectors. Now in 2001 we finally have an
official release by this wizard of the woodwinds and keyboards. It is not surprising that this CD is highly
anticipated by fans of The Band which Hudson has been a member of since the early '60s. It is with this
anticipation that people have wondered for a long time what direction his works would take. This is an
individual who was steeped in classical music as a young man and took his musical background and intermixed it
with Rock and Roll and Rhythm and Blues for so many years. Now he is unleashed to do whatever he wants. As a
radio person I find that people like me always want to 'categorize' music. It makes it easier to file in our heads.
This CD is difficult to categorize, for Garth's talents flow Free Form. There are 6 tracks and I will deal each of
Cut 1 is called "The Sea of Cyrus and Mulgrew."
Backing Mr. Hudson is his wife Maud on vocals, members of
and a credit to old Bandmate Levon
Helm for Percussion Explosion. This track takes us on quite a journey of many moods. At times you're soothed by
Bill Evans-like passages and suddenly like a roaring locomotive the Crowmatix jump in and the music takes off,
only to be soothed again by both the sax and piano of Garth Hudson. It is very much like a roller coaster ride with
those moments of rising high and slow and then plunging quickly down and up again with excitement. The vocals
of Maud Hudson sneak up on you and are layered magnificently among the Tenor Saxophone of Hudson and the
Crowmatix. Maud's vocal is both spiritual
in sound and at times almost eerie in the mix. She gives a brilliant
texture to Mr. Hudson's riveting solos. I realize on this site I am preaching to the converted; but before anyone
who knows nothing of Maud's talents jumps in and
thinks this is like an early version of Wings where Paul
McCartney added his wife to the mix more for love than talent: This is not the case here. Maud Hudson's speaking
and singing presence is awesome and kudos to Garth to incorporate her into the mix.
Track 2 is entitled "The Sea To The North."
It is also the title track. It begins with Mr. Larry Packer of the Crowmatix playing a very 'eastern' sounding violin
solo. This could have been recorded within the rice paddies of China. We move into Mr. Hudson playing
underneath the solo to a few seconds of Maud's singing which bridges us to Mr. Hudson at the Accordion. Here
we take a further musical sojourn into the mind of Hudson. The feel is Eastern European here where the
instrument has always found a home. I played the accordion for years and was a part of a classical accordion
orchestra. I felt very much at home here. Suddenly and without warning the underlying keyboard of Mr. Hudson
makes a calliope effect only to make yet another quick change with what seems like a Bass accordion sound. An
instrument with no buttons on the left side and tuned to the lower registers. I'm sure he is doing this electronically;
but it reminded me of sitting in back of the Accordion Orchestra with my Bass Accordion as a boy. Again we are
taken very smoothly into other melodies and almost geographical adventures musically. Garth makes many
sounds on the album that I wouldn't hazard a guess at how he achieves them; for this is a man very much at home
as the Merlin of both the Keyboard and Woodwinds. I would be amiss if I didn't mention the wonderful
pipe organ that is interspersed from time to time.
Track 3 "The Breakers."
Makes one feel off the top for a moment that Garth is taking us back to the beginning of The Band with Tommy
Spurlock's guitar sounding hauntingly like "The Weight" for just a moment. A musical tease if you will. On this
track Garth call's upon old friends from the group The Call. Garth played with them on their works a few years
back as some of you will remember. Scott Musick on Drums and Michael Been on Guitar. As someone who grew
up reading the back of album covers I was surprised and most happy to find the genius of Willie Weeks on Bass.
It's interesting that with The Band, Garth's saxophone playing was thrown in for texture from time to time. On this
CD it is front and center and we see his love for the instrument. It is on this track I begin to see how much work the
arrangements must have taken. Every time you are nestled down to here him play the Sax for example, he is
suddenly heard on electric keyboard, then in a flash he is on the Accordion. I would love to see the charts for this
album. On this track Maud Hudson comes front and center not just in a narration form but singing in a most
beautiful way. The track ends with Tommy Spurlock and yet another glint of "The Weight." I don't think Garth
Hudson would be happy if I used the words "New Age" for this piece. I will however as a brief guidepost; because
there are moments when the term comes to mind, mainly because of the way the music flows so freely that they
could be used for "relaxation" tapes after a day of high anxiety. That is not to say in any that the music is
background music. No, not in any form. It just from time to time reminds me of those latter days of the '60s when
the synth and real instruments took us to another place for the first time and the industry came down with the term,
"New Age." As I said before the industry is quick to define and categorize music. Sadly the industry does not have
the musical spectrum of Mr. Hudson. The music business is guided much like a clerical filer of songs. In other
words it has to go into some section somewhere. At this point I will point out that I'm not sure which section this
CD will go into. More on that later.
Track 4 is called "Third Order."
Levon Helm joins his old friend on this track on drums. Levon, has always had a deep affection for Garth. I
remember after Robbie had left the Band and Richard had died, I once asked Levon if it was difficult to carry on
without them. Levon paused and smiled and said, "John, The Band will be over when Garth decides he no longer
wants to play in the group." That is just a tip of the iceberg of how Levon has always felt about Garth. This track is
filled with many different sounds. This is Garth at his freest moments. He calls up sounds that only reside in his
head, sends them to his fingers and spits them out for all of us to share. Once again Garth has brought old friends to
the table to partake on his musical jaunt.
The Bauls of Bengal which have shown up in Garth's history come to
the forefront and we hear the "skins" take center stage. I'm not sure where Levon begins and Dan Brubek and
The Bauls of Bengal ends. There is however a great drum solo by Levon in this piece.
Track 5 is called "Dark Star."
This track begins with a light flair and a soundtrack of what might be playing while watching people walk down
42nd Street. Garth meets Ornette Coleman meets Gershwin. Is that complex enough. Some great jazz like licks on
this one. Damn! We all know the talent of this man and he just never disappoints. Maud rejoins him on this one and
may I say that Mike Dunn takes us through come great Bass runs. If I haven?' said it before... Aaron Hurwitz and
the Crowmatix are such an important part of this album. On five of the six tracks whey supply themselves as the
troops to General Hudson. OK! Get ready! Garth Speaks! Yes Mr. Hudson decided to open his vocal mike on this
one. Just a few words following those of Maud. Just enough to tease and tantalize. It's like Garth' who has always
let his instruments do the talking for him, has decided to give his vocal instrument a brief outing. What's interesting
is that it's just enough. Not too much - just enough for texture. The last track is yet to come and it will be Garth
alone with his pianos.
Track 6 is called "Little Island."
This is a fitting way to finish off the CD. It is Garth alone with his Yamaha C6 and Acoustic Piano. After a few bried
notes you hear in the background a couple of vocal "puffs" from Garth. Hoagy Carmichael would love this track.
Picture Garth sitting in a living room. His pipe smoking on top of the piano. Perhaps a beverage of his choice
nearby. This is Garth upfront and very personal. He might be thinking back to his days in London Ontario - or Maud
could be sitting on the couch across from him as he serenades her. Or something else all together. I realize this
review could be looked upon as a "sweetheart" piece. Another term from my industry; but I have to tell the truth. I
was never disappointed. I was constantly surprised and titillated and most importantly, I did not have any
expectations of the album whatsoever. I hope that Breeze Hill services Jazz Radio on this one. I believe it would do
well there as well. As I said early, I'm not sure what section this will end up in at your local record store. It doesn't
really matter. Just ask for it and tell your friends. The wait Mr. Hudson has been worth it. Congratulations to both
you and Maud and to Breeze Hill and Quentin for getting it out there for the rest of us to hear.
Ladies and gentleman: The private music has left the building at last!
[Chat Room] [Search]
[What's New?] [Main Page]