With 3 Lead vocalists, that played more than half a dozen instruments between them. A lead guitarist and songwriter of the highest quality, and a multi-intrumentalist/keyboard player The Band were, and still remain quite unique to this day.
This album still sounds completely original now. In 1969 it would have been from another planet. Everybody was into acid and anti-establishment, Flower Power, Hendrix psychedelia were hip then. The Band went backwards and embraced a bit of country, Ragtime, Gospel and Rock N Roll of course.
Highlights - well the only only minor hit single they ever had "Rag Mama Rag" is a track that demonstrates their versitilty. Rick Danko (the usual bass player) is playing fiddle, theres some fiendish Piano Playing from Garth Hudson and virtually everybody is playing something different from usual.
The other well known track is The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (which sounds as though it was written in the 19th Century). This was covered by Joan Baez. However, my favourite is probably King Harvest (has Surely Come). Richard Manuels lead vocal is anguished, Robbies guitar solo, brilliant but understated. If you've seen the classic albums program on this album you'll understand.
Believe it or not this album influenced Eric Clapton and Elton John. Hard to believe. When Clapton first heard this record he stopped wanting to be a guitar hero and wanted to get back to writing quality songs. Listen to Elton Johns Tumbleweed Connection album and it reeks of the first two Band records (and its a great album in its own right).
Sadly Richard Manuel committed suicide in 1986, and Rick Danko died in the 1990's. We will never see The Band perform again in its original line-up and to me this is as sad as The Beatles never performing again after the famous roof-top concert. Thats how good these guys were. This album remains an essential purchase 37 years after it was released.