The Band's third studio album is also their third-best studio album, and that isn't bad. It's not as synchronous as Music from Big Pink or as overpowering as The Band, but that's part of its appeal. The quintet's first two albums were such towering achievements that the group came to lean on its songs, turning the lion's share of them into concert staples. Stage Fright is littered with lesser-known Robbie Robertson compositions possessing more modest charms than the overplayed likes of "The Weight" and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." The title track is uncommonly hard-eyed and modern; Richard Manual's vocal, like most of his turns at the mic, is sparkling. (Manual also shines on the reflective "Sleeping" and the uptempo "Just Another Whistle Stop"). "All La Glory" is a gorgeous lullaby, while "Time to Kill" sounds like the Band doing Creedence Clearwater Revival. This isn't the place to discover this great North American band, but it's definitely a stop worth taking before your exploration is completed. --Steven Stolder
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This is the one--Best CD issue and mix of this classic album
Elliot Knapp | Seattle, Washington United States | 11/29/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"To start with, the music AND production on this album both deserve 5 stars. The Band gave the tapes to 2 different mixing engineers, resulting in 2 completely different mixes of the entire album. This Gold CD has the better of the two mixes--it sounds more natural, more like real-life, and more like the production on the first two albums. If you're familiar with this album, you know how great the writing and music is--the mix on this CD matches that artistic quality with production quality. I highly recommend getting this version of Stage Fright.
Regarding the music on the album itself, I don't really completely buy into the mythology that other reviews are trying to perpetuate--Stage Fright isn't a concept album about "Manuel's life or death struggle with Robertson" anymore than The Band was a concept album about the finer points of having fun in the Wild West--why do we need to assign these kinds of categories to such category-defying music? Likewise, Robertson in the liner notes back-projects some sort of self-aggrandizing story about how he was trying to reach Richard Manuel with his songs. According to common sense and Levon Helm's autobiography, Robertson may have been encouraging Richard to write more and get everybody to participate, but Richard's real big problems didn't really surface until the late 70's and his eventual suicide, over 15 years after this album was created. It's pretty egotistical for Robbie and critics/reviewers to claim that this entire album was intended as an indictment/diagnosis of the problems the band was facing due to their stardom. Sure, those themes are (kind of) there in songs like "Stage Fright" and "The Shape I'm In," but to claim that Robbie was trying to "communicate with Richard through the music" is pretty absurd, not to mention pathetic (if he really wanted to reach him, there were probably better ways). Instead of completely backwardly misinterpreting songs like "Strawberry Wine," "Time To Kill," and "W.S. Walcott Medicine Show" to fit some romanticized legend about the band members' secret feelings, I propose to take the music (and what great music it is) at face value:
This album is chock full of rock and roll, upbeat jams, good times, great lyrics, and some wicked guitar. Despite his many ego-related shortcomings, Robbie Robertson still possessed quite a songwriting muse at the time of this album. It may have been because he was increasingly taking more creative control of the band, but there is also some increasingly gnarly, wicked guitar from Robertson on this album. Most of these songs are the same caliber as songs of the first two albums (some of them are better). At face value, "Strawberry Wine" is a party song about a guy who just loves his wine. It's funny and fun, with great organ from Garth Hudson. "Sleeping" is catchy as hell, and funny as well. "Just Another Whistle Stop" marks a milestone in the complexities of Robertson's composition, and some gritty guitar. "The Shape I'm In" and "Stage Fright" are often talked about classics. One of my personal favorites is "The Rumor," which closes the album with one of Richard Manuel's most soulful vocals ever.
Overall, Stage Fright clocks in shorter than The Band's first two albums, but it's packed with great moments. Garth Hudson's piano, organ and saxophone are ON, as usual. Levon Helm turns in some great vocals (despite his documented drug problems of the time), Rick Danko's got classical vocals as well as some fat fretless bass lines, and Richard Manuel is in fine vocal form and contributes some fine songwriting (his last on any Band albums). I don't agree with most of the romanticized interpretations of this album and prefer to take it as it is: a record full of good times and human feeling like the two albums before it. Once you get to know this record, you may notice that Robertson was consciously trying to emulate those good feelings and human moments, but they weren't coming quite as easily or naturally as on the first two albums. Stage Fright still hits hard as one of the Band's greatest and most overlooked records. It's worth owning both versions, so once you get to know and love this album, you may want to check out the Gold CD version from 1994--it's more expensive, but totally worth it. I hope you purchase and enjoy this excellent music!"