"I've played in blues and rock bands since 1968, and have spent thousands and thousands of hours listening to music. "The Band" (brown album) is my all-time favorite album ever. In 1969, most people were listening to Hendrix, Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, The Who, etc. I had a few extra bucks and bought "The Band" mainly because of the cool album cover. It was one of the most important days of my life. I had never heard anything like it before (or since). There were no blaring leads, the harmonies were like none I had ever heard, the lyrics addressed historical facts and rural life, yet the music made you feel good and even want to dance. They were truly a band-- it was nearly impossible to figure out who was singing what (especially since Robertson was wisely told to sing into a dead mike). This is the only album I have ever heard where EVERY song is great. My particular favorites are Across the Great Divide, Rockin' Chair, King Harvest, and Rag Mama Rag. Levon Helm , Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson, Rick Danko, and Robbie Robertson (masters of 27 different instruments among them) were a once in a century combination that managed to create a unique style of music that is genuine American. Who else could incorporate guitars, fiddles, church organ, mandolins, horns, piano, and three exceptional vocalists into a groundbreaking rock and roll band? Voted the Band of the Decade (70's) by Rolling Stone magazine, their combined talents provided some of the finest music of this century.You will never hear anyone who can cover their songs even remotely, a testament to their collective musical genius. And "The Band" is the best of the best."
Still unsurpassed after all these years
Mr. Stuart Robert Harris | Bradford-on-Avon, UK | 01/31/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I doubt that any single album has so many great songs played so well. I've come back to this album time and again over the last XX years and it's never disappointed me.At a time when most popular music was permutating the basic guitar-bass-drums line-up, The Band were blending those instruments with reeds, horns and keyboards. Using a tuba as the bass on Rag Mama Rag, no less The sound is simultaneously rough yet sophisticated. The singing blends sweetness and hard edge. Rural but definitely not country.For music lovers born in the 50s and 60s (and maybe earlier) this album is an absolute sure-fire must-have. For those born later, I wonder whether it sounds as compelling - years of multi-track recording and studio wizardry have raised the taste for smoothness so this one might be a tad too grainy for them.The version I have is the unremastered CD. I wonder about the additional tracks on this one - more can sometimes diminish the perfect integrity of a great album. If record companies want to give the fans a little extra, bless them, then I personally would prefer them on a 2nd CD."
Up there with the best
redcraze | Sydney, Australia | 12/06/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I've said elsewhere that the Stones' 'Let It Bleed' was the album of 1969, but I forgot about this. I can't decide whether or not it's better than The Band's remarkable debut, 'Music From Big Pink', but in any case it's probably best to follow Levon Helm's lead and treat them as the one work and forget about rating them. The 'brown album' is full of tremendous cuts, notably Robertson's magnificent 'The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,' sounding starker and drier here than the live versions I've heard, 'The Unfaithful Servant,' with its stupendous Danko vocal and weepy horn outro from Hudson and John Simon, and 'King Harvest (Has Surely Come),' graced with perhaps Robbie's best solo as well as a very funky rhythm section. While the album owes its greatness to top-shelf songs more than anything else, The Band's ensemble playing is enough to make a person cry (Garth's piano on 'Rag Mama Rag' is, well, indescribable). More than that, you can't help but marvel at the fact that one band could have so many great singers. Put all that together and you have one of the very best albums anyone is likely to make."
If you could only have one . . . .
Elliot Knapp | Seattle, Washington United States | 01/03/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If you could only own one Band album (which I hope never happens to you), this is probably the one. Actually, if you could only own one album by anybody, this one is pretty much up there too. For a band with three other essential albums (Music from Big Pink, Stage Fright, and Northern Lights - Southern Cross), The Band had to work pretty hard to earn it's place as the group's top recording. If you don't own this record, all I can say is "buy it as fast as you can." It's a classic, influential work of songwriting, playing, singing, and production genius as well as a portal from mainstream rock to the rockabilly, country, gospel, folk and blues that it synthesizes.
There's not one weak cut on this album--from the soulful, uptempo openers to the classic anthem "The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down," the back-porch "Rockin' Chair" and the heavenly funky "King Harvest," the album flows seamlessly from start to finish like some sort of time travel experiment in which somebody took a time machine to 1865 and brought rock and roll along with them. Guitarist Robbie Robertson's songwriting was never as consistently good--the songs range from narrative stories like "Dixie," and "Rockin' Chair," to more humorous stream-of-consciousness lyrics like "Across the Great Divide" and "Rag Mama Rag," as well as more oblique numbers like "Unfaithful Servant." Drummer Levon Helm and pianist Richard Manuel contribute as well on several numbers, notably "Jemima Surrender" (Helm) and the heartwrenching, soulful, "Whispering Pines" (Manuel).
What makes this album so classic is the combination of great songwriting with an unmatched blend of musical virtuosity and variety. Robbie Robertson's guitar is biting and original, full of between-vocal fills and pinched harmonics as well as some really resonant acoustic work. He's a master at understatement, usually eschewing solos for lead that supports the song as well as the vocalist while at the same time remaining oh-so wicked ("King Harvest" anybody?). Levon Helm's drumming is so fat it sounds like he's in the room with you, and his combination of heavy funk with the mostly folky music accounts for a large portion of this album's unique sound. Rick Danko has always been an underrated bassist, backing up Helm's funky drums with an equally funky bass bottom that grooves and gets deep at all the right moments. Richard Manuel's piano is solid, though he's easily outshone when Garth Hudson tears across the keys on songs like "Rag Mama Rag" and "Jemima Surrender." Hudson represents a one man musical army, unmatched in virtuosity--his unmistakable, agile Lowrey organ lines typified the Band's sound for their entire career, but he was also adept at playing pretty much any instrument he got his hands on, including melodica, clavinette, some of the raunchiest saxophone ever laid down on a rock record, trumpet and accordion. Most bands would have killed to get a musician like Hudson into their group, and his talents aren't wasted here, bringing class and jaw-dropping keyboard lines to the aforementioned tunes as well as "Look Out Cleveland."
The final ingredient to the other-worldly magic that makes up this album is the fact that The Band had three of the best vocalists of the early rock era, using them each as lead vocalists as well as backing singers in gorgeous harmony combinations that showcase each singer's unique vocal timbre. Levon Helm (lead on "Up On Cripple Creek"), the group's only American member, contributes the Southern flavor, soulfully croaking out lead vocals that evoke good times, the anguish of Confederate soldiers and some irreverent debauchery. Rick Danko's country-inflected vocals (lead on "Unfaithful Servant") crack with palpable emotion and provide the sugar-sweet, high-range harmonies on many of the tracks. Last and most impressively, Richard Manuel (lead on "Whispering Pines") possessed a truly priceless set of vocal chords, capable of deep, resonant power ("Jawbone"), unbelievable texture ("King Harvest") and a heavenly, bellowing falsetto that still makes my hair stand on end ("Whispering Pines"). These voices are the stuff dreams are made of, and they rotate back and forth, showcasing each singer's talents and deftly matching each singer with the song he sings.
I also have to mention John Simon's production--this record feels and sounds so organic, like everything is happening live in a small room. The texture is so clear and rich, and the record's woody, thick low-end still rocks and grooves just as hard as the Band wanted it to when they originally recorded this gem.
The bonus tracks on this album aren't truly essential, except maybe the studio take of "Get Up Jake," a live favorite. Instead, they mostly help prolong the magic, providing slightly different alternate takes that reveal different vocal nuances and less polished products along with a window into the Band's creative process.
This record is so good I can't recommend it enough, truth be told. It influenced so many other artists and still sounds so fresh and unique today that it really is a must-own album that belongs in your collection to be heard, reheard, and treasured for years and years to come."
History as Mystery: The Band's time-defying masterpiece
Jeffrey Blehar | Potomac, MD | 10/21/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Some albums are declared "dated" or "timeless" based on particular qualities (lyrics, instrumentation, production gimmickry) that either trap them in cultural amber or leave them curiously unscathed by musical faddishness. But The Band's eponymous second LP (now reissued with greatly improved sound, penetrating liner notes, and some decent but inessential bonus tracks) is that rarest of things: an album that exists OUTSIDE of time, or rather *in* but not *of* it.
Let me explain. This disc was written, recorded and released in 1969, but could just as plausibly have come from 1869. The songs (gorgeously played slices of Americana, all) do indeed speak of certain historical events - Stoneman's raids and a visit from General Robert E. Lee near the end of the Civil War in "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" to name one, the coming of rural trade unionism in "King Harvest (Has Surely Come)" to name another - but the music and performance stands eerily outside the continuum of actual CHRONOLOGICAL time, and instead gestures towards a permanent, idealized near-mythical imagining of American history.
It's rather amazing, really: Robbie Robertson and his cohorts, having fully absorbed the American folk tradition, have reorganized it as an impressionistic snapshot history of the United States in sepia-tone. Given the preternatural way in which every single song on the album fully and flawlessly evokes American folk images and myths while simultaneously remaining effortlessly modern - again, a product of its times but still not of them - it's either deeply ironic or perfectly predictable that this most American of albums was written and performed by four Canadians (plus one Razorback). I'm still not sure which.
What IS beyond doubt, however, is that The Band is a landmark in the history of modern American music, and one which the group themselves could never live up to in later years. It is one of the very few albums I've ever owned that has a palpable aura and mystique; absorb it in all of its impossible perfection and you will feel like a magic spell is being worked upon you. To embrace the sweet cadences of "Rockin' Chair," to join in singing the ragged communal harmonies of "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," or to plunge into the darting guitar figures which represent the deceptive moral choice posited by "King Harvest"...to do these things is to delve into the joyful enigmas of the United States' own founding myths.
History as mystery. Not bad for an 11-song piece of vinyl, really."