The Band Albums Ranked

The Band Albums Ranked

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They were Bob Dylan?s band, and then they were The Band. The Canadian contingent of the group had no ill effects on The Band?s ability to tap into the spirit of folk and blues Americana, charting a path of their own, (mostly) separate from America?s foremost poet-musician. The Band?s legacy and the folklore that surrounds them, especially in their earlier years, has been well documented. But here, I aim to explore their ten-album-long discography, excluding records under the ?Bob Dylan? banner (such as PLANET WAVES [1974] and THE BASEMENT TAPES [1975]) and live albums such as THE LAST WALTZ (1978), great as they are.

#10 ? JUBILATION (1998)

Favorite track: ?Kentucky Downpour?

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The Band made its hilariously generic name with an atmospheric, ?60s-tinged fusion of folk, blues, rock, and country music, attractively channeling and paying homage to those traditions. But that wasn?t the case on JUBILATION, The Band?s last album, and the last in a trilogy of records they made after reforming without key songwriters Robbie Robertson and Richard Manuel. It sucks that The Band had to end with such an inauspicious conclusion, a middling record that calls to mind broad bar blues energy. Ironically, or perhaps fittingly, it was the only record from the new line up to not rely almost entirely on covers, so perhaps that?s where things went wrong; Robbertson and Manuel?s absences just couldn?t be covered up.

#9 ? JERICHO (1993)

Favorite track: ?Atlantic City?

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Something similar could probably be said about JERICHO, the return to studio album-making 16 years after The Band?s previous release. But somehow, another cover album from the group had a bit more nuance than JUBILATION. Their cover of Bruce Springsteen?s ?Atlantic City? is one of their best, and Bob Dylan?s ?Blind Willie McTell? is done justice. Otherwise, JERICHO is just too hit-and-miss to recommend any higher than #9, marking a rough and seemingly out-of-touch return for The Band. It regrettably overshot into cliche territory the sound they helped create.

#8 ? MOONDOG MATINEE (1973)

Favorite track: ?Holy Cow?

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I think MOONDOG MATINEE, The Band?s fifth record, may have been the start of their decline into blues rock malaise, at least in terms of the critical consensus. And even personally, clearly, it isn?t the highlight of their work over the 30 years between their first and last albums. It was the first of The Band?s primarily covers albums (this one entirely), including JERICHO and HIGH ON THE HOG. And they did a decent job, interpreting Chuck Berry, Sam Cooke, and the ?Third Man Theme,? of all things. But it goes too broad, maybe conventional is a better word; in any event, the cohesion of the ?music out of time? sensibility of The Band?s best albums was already missing five years after their ?solo? debut. Their cover of ?Holy Cow? by Lee Dorsey (written by Allen Toussaint) is the best track on MOONDOG MATINEE, a stronger pop rendition than anything else on the album.

#7 ? NORTHERN LIGHTS ? SOUTHERN CROSS (1975)

Favorite track: ?Acadian Driftwood?

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The Band came off of MOONDOG MATINEE with a fully original album. NORTHERN LIGHTS ? SOUTHERN CROSS was written entirely by Robertson, and while his leadership did not yield the best The Band would have to offer, the record exists in an interesting space. It was more folksy than the R&B-influenced MOONDOG MATINEE, hearkening more strongly to the sound of The Band?s first two albums. ?Acadian Driftwood? strikes a beautiful tone in that sense, the obvious frontrunner on an album made up of more sensual, yet perhaps less powerful, songs.

#6 ? ISLANDS (1977)

Favorite track: ?Islands?

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ISLANDS? place in, essentially, the middle of the list is all the more remarkable considering it was a ?quota quickie.? ISLANDS was made up of unreleased ?scraps? from previous recording sessions for Capitol, since The Band had to fulfill a contract before getting THE LAST WALTZ out for Warner Bros. Such a release could really have hit the bottom of the barrel, but since it was the last album from the original configuration of the band, it still had quality scraps to pull. The instrumental and titular track ?Islands? is funky and soothing. And it?s joined by, as to be expected, an eclectic array of songs, including a decent cover of ?Georgia on My Mind.? ISLANDS never hits the unique highs of its title track, but the rest is worth listening to.

#5 ? HIGH ON THE HOG (1996)

Favorite track: ?Free Your Mind?

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The sole success of the reformed Band?s three ?90s albums, HIGH ON THE HOG doesn?t deviate terribly from my previous comments on the broader blues rock sound they came back with. However. I?m not sure if this cover album benefited from a better selection of source songs or a greater commitment to raucous rock, or both or neither, but HIGH ON THE HOG was The Band?s greatest achievement in 25 years. Oh, it?s not exactly inspired like the records to follow on this list; it?s still pretty cheesy, musically and lyrically. But the pop hooks are there on HIGH ON THE HOG. I don?t know why the cover art evokes a Crash Bandicoot boss, though. The ?90s were weird, man.

#4 ? STAGE FRIGHT (1970)

Favorite track: ?Time to Kill?

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STAGE FRIGHT, The Band?s third album, was their first divisive one. It was a clear step into a different direction, a more rock and/or pop-oriented sound. Todd Rundgren might have had something to do with that, even though he was ?simply? the engineer, not the producer (those duties fell to the band itself). The Band?s success from MUSIC FROM BIG PINK didn?t result in a ?sophomore slump,? but combined with their self-titled?s reception, many contemporary critics saw STAGE FRIGHT as a wrongheaded, indulgent exercise. It was their version of Dylan going electric, perhaps. In any event, the deviation resulted in a great, uplifting record musically?and a deep, reflective album lyrically. ?Time to Kill? is a more ?fun? song than anything on The Band?s first two releases, alongside the great combos of their established storytelling abilities and their new rock sensibilities, ?The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show? and ?Daniel and the Sacred Harp.?

#3 ? CAHOOTS (1971)

Favorite track: ?Where Do We Go from Here??

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CAHOOTS capitalized on the shift in sound that was STAGE FRIGHT and brought the more mainstream rock sound into greater focus with stronger pop hooks. The record simply has more stand out songs, like the banger ?Where Do We Go from Here?,? as well as ?Life Is a Carnival? and ?Volcano.? It feels more?compromised, shall we say, artistically than even STAGE FRIGHT, but CAHOOTS is simply a fun listen. There?s not a whole lot much more to be said.

#2 ? THE BAND (1969)

Favorite track: ?Jawbone?

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But The Band?s self-titled, their second album, closed out the ?60s with remarkable grace. An incredible delivery on the Americana theme, THE BAND is a meditation on the folklore of the United States both lyrically and musically. It, like its predecessor and unlike even the best albums from the group to follow, occupies a place out of time, standing nearly as the artistic statement from The Band. ?Jawbone? is hands-down their best song across their entire career, while the other 11 tracks on the record wind their way through the aforementioned ?60s spin on folk/blues/rock/country fusion.

#1 ? MUSIC FROM BIG PINK (1968)

Favorite track: ?The Weight?

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But the legendary ?solo? debut from The Band, recorded in the pink house represented in the title, was never topped by the group. Although it was their release aside from Dylan, his influence is stamped on the album, literally; its cover is a painting by Dylan. Big Pink was also the recording home of THE BASEMENT TAPES, while three of MUSIC FROM BIG PINK?s songs were co-written by Dylan and had already been recorded for the former album (although those tracks would not be officially released until 1975, despite being recorded in 1967). In any event, MUSIC FROM BIG PINK stands on its own as a seminal record of the ?60s and American music at large. Termed sometimes as ?roots rock,? the pretty silly phrase, I must admit, does embody what The Band was doing with their first batch of songs. ?The Weight? is one of the couple immediately catchy tracks, but generally, the album weaves through the history of American music without apparent commercial consideration or excessively modern influence. Although, of course, MUSIC FROM BIG PINK is still immensely listenable today. I don?t think it?s too much of a stretch to name it the crowning achievement of The Band?s efforts.

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