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C.A.T.: Music From Big Pink

The Band – Music From Big Pink (1968)

Today marks the 40th anniversary of The Band’s landmark debut Music From Big Pink, and it still sounds just as good as ever. With it’s roots rock sound, Music From Big Pink was the first album to point the way to more rootsy, laid-back feeling albums such as Workingman’s Dead by The Grateful Dead and Beggar’s Banquet by The Rolling Stones. The Band’s sound on this album also inspired Eric Clapton to quit Cream and pursue a similar sound.

In early 1968, The Band moved to a pink house in Woodstock, NY (hence the album’s name) with Bob Dylan after serving as his backing band to record “Big Pink” as well as accompanying Dylan’s The Basement Tapes album. With this album, The Band were looking to break away from just being Dylan’s backup band. However, his influence can certainly be felt by the fact that he helped write three of the songs on the album as well as painted the cover art.

There’s a very American sound to songs like “We Can Talk” or the cover of the country standard “Long Black Veil”, which of course is pretty ironic seeing as though 4 out of the 5 members of The Band were Canadian. Much of Music From Big Pink evokes images of the American Frontier or traditional family values. Songs such as “To Kingsom Come” and “Caledonia Mission” have a very distinctive fusion of blues, country, and soul as do most of the songs. However, the song “Chest Fever” sticks out for having a bit more trippy sound as well as for showcasing Garth Hudson’s impressive organ playing and Robbie Robertson’s guitar playing.

For being a bunch of guys who had really just been backing instumentalists for their whole careers it’s comendable how little they show off as musicians on this albums, because they all appear to be very talented musicians. Also, another staple of the album is drummer Levon Helm’s beautifully soulful vocals, as well as just as impressive lead vocal contributions from pianist Richard Manuel, and bassist Rick Danko. The three of them have a very rough sounding way of harmonizing that is both distinct and mesmerizing. The blending of their voices is quite noticeable in what is probably The Band’s most famous song, and one of my favorite songs of all time, “The Weight”.

Music from Big Pink is simply one of those albums that was important because it was completely different from anything that was coming out of rock and roll during 1968, at the height of psychedelia. The Band would continue to pursue the sound established on Music from Big Pink with the delicious slice of 19th century Americana that is their self-titled sophomore album, but as far as I’m concerned, Music From Big Pink was The Band at the height of their powers.

Favorite Tracks: “The Weight”, “Tears of Rage”, “To Kingdom Come”


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