Top positive review
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Hear this album and you'll immediately become a huge fan
on 1 September 2003
Listening to this album for the first time as a fan of The Last Waltz, but without knowing anything else about The Band, I was initially somewhat disappointed. The overall sound mix seemed hollow compared to the live versions of songs like Ophelia, yet one would normally expect a studio album to sound fuller and more rounded than a live effort. Worse, the production is flawed, with many of the tracks noisy and slightly damaged in some places.
But on a repeated listening and after following The Last Waltz's on-screen advice to turn the volume up, this collection grew on me - and has continued to grow on me, to the extent that I now spend much of my days annoying my colleagues by humming or singing, badly, some of the songs on this CD.
The Band, and lead guitarist Robbie Robertson in particular, must be amongst the greatest songwriters ever. The melodies are catchy and the arrangements are exquisitely put together. The lyrics are always intelligent and are often a daring historical narrative or social commentary, the best exemplar being the devastating Acadian Driftwood.
First and foremost, however, The Band are performers and are genuine masters of this craft. Every song is simply perfect: the musicians blend perfectly, the harmonies work perfectly and the individual performances are nothing short of stunning. The use of three "lead" singers with distinctive individual voices, far from being distracting, is a clever way of lending separate narrative voices to songs. The result of this careful arrangement is to instill a deep emotion into every track, which, combined with the intelligence of the writing, results in a powerful, unforgettable song in almost every instance, fusing country, blues and rock in a unique style.
Everyone will have a favourite in this collection and I suspect Band devotees might even have a favourite that has not been included amongst these "greatest hits". For my money, the gorgeous It Makes No Difference is easily worth the price of this album on its own.