Ex-Band members Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson and Garth Hudson supervised this release, which does an impressive job of boiling down some of the greatest rock albums ever into one 18-track collection. Four tracks each from Music from Big Pink (The Weight; Tears of Rage; Chest Fever; I Shall Be Released ) and The Band (Up on Cripple Creek; The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down; Rag Mama Rag; King Harvest ) join 10 more from their other classic LPs. Essential.
It seems odd that the Band emerged in 1968, defying the counterculture's extravagant rejections of U.S. culture with literary, often Southern-tinged musical and lyrical vehicles. Hearing this 18-song anthology, with its heavy weighting toward the Canadian quintet's first three albums--Music from Big Pink
(four tunes), The Band
(five tunes), and Stage Fright
(three tunes)--what still stands out is the Band's command of yearning vocal harmonies, their sense of plainly laid melodies that reveal acoustic depth, and a nostalgia for an imagined American culture. With all their quirkiness and the advance of Robbie Robertson
as their centerpiece, the Band lost their celebrated place in the rock pantheon within a decade. This set, which opens so magnificently with "The Weight," "Tears of Rage" (cowritten with Dylan
), and the big organ-vamping "Chest Fever," declines rather steeply on the final tracks, "Acadian Driftwood" and "The Saga of Pepote Rouge." Up till then, however, this set is fantastic. --Andrew Bartlett