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High on the Hog - Song by Song

by Seth Rogovoy

Article originally appeared in the Usenet newsgroup, February 1996.

Here is a song-by-song breakdown/description of High On the Hog. I got the advance promo copy for my duties as a rock critic, but the disk didn't come with any booklet, so I'm left guessing about who does what, exactly. I don't know why record cos. do that. It's pretty bass-ackwards if you axe me.

1. STAND UP (Channel/Rector)
Levon sings lead on this moody, R&B thumper, awash in horns. A low-key intro but one that sets the tone for what follows.

2. BACK TO MEMPHIS (Young/Young/Johnson/Kenney/Orr/Martin)
Richard Bell is the featured musician on this cut which boasts lots of barrelhouse piano. A very very slow blues, it's also heavy on the horns and features vintage three-way harmonies with Levon out front of the mix.

Rick's song all the way, a love ballad that tries to recapture the glory of It Makes No Difference. Garth's psychedelic Lowery organ (?) interweaves throughout the tune. The bridge features some counterpoint vocals from another singer, not Levon, perhaps Randy Ciarlante, whose vocals are given much greater prominence on the disk as a whole compared to Jericho. It's funny, too, because the vocals sound a lot like Robbie's! Jim Weider replicates Robbie's guitar sound on the outro -- notably one of the only times on the album he overtly goes for a Robbie sound. The guitar is met by Garth's saxophone, just as on "It Makes No Difference", at the end.

4. FREE YOUR MIND (Foster /McElroy)
You get to hear Levon sing the lines "I like rap music and hip-hop clothes" on this tune, a plea for racial understanding and unity. It's a funky number with a sprinkle of hip-hop sounds, and it even features a sort of dub section during the break. It is mired, however, with an uncharacteristically pedestrian horn arrangement, much more Chicago (the group) than Allen Toussaint (the Band's great horn arranger). This is a weirdly produced track, I guess.

5. FOREVER YOUNG (Bob Dylan)
Given a pretty straightforward, faithful rendition. This song has been covered way too much, but I suppose if anyone has the right to sing it it's these guys, who after all played on the original version, as well as on live versions in '74 and at the Last Waltz. They all trade off vocal phrases. It's very weird -- I'll be interested to hear what you folks think -- but the very first person to sing on this track sort of sounds like Rick but then again doesn't sound like Rick. Later on in the song, Rick sounds a lot more like himself. It's possible that Randy kicks off this tune, I can't tell. I kinda wish they did the fast version , though. No one ever plays it that way, it could be sort of like "Rag Mama Rag" if they did it.

This is probably the best track on the album. Shades of vintage Band. You could easily pick this up and plant it on Stage Fright or Cahoots and it might well fit. Great dual vocal by Levon and Rick, it's a slow R&B thumper -- it also could have fit well on one of Levon's solo albums -- with a typical descending bridge and great high lonesome harmonies by Rick. Jim Weider contributes some great Robbie-like counterpoint guitar that dances around the vocals on the chorus. It's a densely textured tune, which is partly what makes it sound like Old Band, kind of a cross between "W.S. Walcott" and "Forbidden Fruit".

Slow blues. You all know it from the live shows, where it's pretty boring. It's pretty boring here too. A showcase for Jim Weider, playing in his not-Robbie style. I can't figure out what these guys like about this tune, except in concert Levon plays bass on it, and that's worth it to me.

This is the lost Bob Dylan /Helena Springs tune, ironically the fiercest rocker on the whole album. Rick, or is it Randy? hard to tell, contributes some very Dylanesque phrasing, but in the end you can see why Bob never recorded this. It's like one of his leavings.

You all know this from the box set. It still features intro and outro spoken word by Rick, and as such really sticks out like a sore thumb on the album. It totally doesn't relate to the album as a whole, except as a reminder of what they've lost. Maybe they just can't imagine ever releasing an album by The Band without Richard Manuel on it. That's a nice sentiment; I'd prefer they just change their names to The Hawks and be done with it.

Someone suggested the voccalist is Champion Jack Dupree -- he's credited with writing the tune, a Bo Diddley-goes-to-Africa jam. Weird. Doesn't really relate to the album, either. Well, that's my unopinionated preview (!) of the album. Fire away!

-- Seth Rogovoy

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