28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
An Overlooked Classic,
This review is from: Stage Fright (Audio CD)
This album, produced by any other band, would be a crowning glory - a staple of desert island lists and top 100 collections, but the Band had just produced the "Big Pink" and "The Band" albums ushering a quiet revolution in rock'n'roll. "Stagefright" has suffered by not being simply Volume 3, it has the reputation of being the beginning of the end for The Band, and a downbeat album at that.
Well, the latter half of the album is certainly darker than previous Band material - 'The Rumor' is certainly disquieting in its portrayal of smalltown gossip, 'Stagefright' is hardly cheering whilst 'The Shape I'm In' charts the narrator's disintigration. But this is only half the story - 'Strawberry Wine'sung and co-written by Levon Helms kicks off the album in true goodtime style with a great bassline and some nifty drumming. Levon also sings 'All La Glory' (about Robbie's baby daughter) as though he were cradling the child with his voice, a personal favourite this one and Garth Hudson's organ solo is gorgeous. 'Sleeping' is one of Richard Manuel's dream numbers, and whilst not quite in the class of 'In the Station' or 'Whispering Pines' it remains utterly charming. 'Time to Kill', a mid paced rocker about the delights of a rural retreat also deserves a mention.
It's Rick Danko though who is the hero of this album not only for his constantly delightful basslines but for his showstopping performance vocal on the title track - the total vulnerability of the central character is perfectly conveyed. This track also contains some of the Band's best ensemble playing.
From the darker side of the album both 'The Shape I'm In', sung superbly by Richard, and 'The Rumor' ( one of only two tracks to feature the group's trademark vocal swapping) are standouts. 'Daniel And The Sacred Harp', the other track to feature vocal swapping, is highly regarded by the one friend of mine who shares my taste for the Band - yet it leaves me indifferent, the mythic story and the instrumental 'colour' are too deliberate and simply don't ring true. Yet it is sung beautifully by Levon and (especially) Richard - a lot of people I'm sure will and indeed do love it.
In all this album represents a shift in direction, but hardly a falling off - the songs are superb and the Band remain the finest most versatile and least selfish bunch of musicians I can think of.
The bonus tracks are interesting but most times I switch off after the album proper.
The newcomer should buy the first two albums first - but don't stop there, this album in particular is crying out for your attention.