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Musical History

A Musical History

4.3 3
by The Band
This exhaustive, rarity-laden six-disc collection tells a story that's long begged to be told: the tale of one of the most seminal yet underrated forces of rock 'n' roll's formative years. True to its name, A Musical History goes back to the embryonic days of the Hawks, who would later morph into the Band, collecting several songs -- highlighted by a burning


This exhaustive, rarity-laden six-disc collection tells a story that's long begged to be told: the tale of one of the most seminal yet underrated forces of rock 'n' roll's formative years. True to its name, A Musical History goes back to the embryonic days of the Hawks, who would later morph into the Band, collecting several songs -- highlighted by a burning version of "Who Do You Love" -- culled from their days as Ronnie Hawkins's backing band. That era is also represented by a handful of unreleased songs, notably the roadhouse-ready "Bacon Fat," that exhibit the burgeoning rootsiness that would endear the Band to Bob Dylan, who ultimately hired them to help propel what was arguably the most vital period in his career. Songs from both their stints with Zimmy pop up here and there, the pleading "Tell Me Mama" and a fierce live version of "Highway 61 Revisited" being the most compelling. But, to the credit of the musicians involved, the set's most stirring moments occur when they're working things out on their own. Early, radically different versions of songs like "Daniel and the Sacred Harp" and "Jemima Surrender" (the latter a real showcase for Levon Helm's earthy-yet-cerebral drumming) give insight into their restless nature as a collective, while song sketches for "Beautiful Thing" and "You Don't Come Through" attest to their willingness to get down-and-dirty. A Musical History offers up just about all the things you'd expect from a best-of, but the outtakes and oddities ultimately bring the most pleasure, from the gnarled blues shuffle of "Look Out Cleveland" to the easy-on-the-ears lope of "Strawberry Wine." Clearly a labor of love, A Musical History, which augments its five CDS with a DVD featuring nine live performances, isn't designed for the casual fan. But for the already converted, it's a little bit -- okay, a heaping helping -- of musical heaven.

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Given the countless Band compilations released over the years, plus the exhaustive bonus-track-laden reissues of the proper albums in 2000 and 2001, it's easy to be suspicious of the six-disc A Musical History, especially since it's the third Band box set released in the CD era. It would seem that all the worthwhile previously unreleased music has been excavated and that the Band's career has been anthologized in every possible way, but A Musical History proves that's not true. As its title implies, the set is a biography, tracing the group's career from their early days as the Hawks supporting Ronnie Hawkins, through their stint as Levon & the Hawks, through their time as Bob Dylan's backing band in 1966, through their emergence as the Band in 1968, then through their years of stardom in the early '70s, leading up to their departure at The Last Waltz in 1976. No previous compilation has done this -- they've either picked up the story with Music from Big Pink or offered up the greatest hits, and they've never weaved Ronnie Hawkins or Bob Dylan tracks into the story line -- and this thorough, all-encompassing approach does result in an absorbing narrative that does provide some revelations, most arriving on the spectacular, necessary first disc that traces the evolution of the band before they were the Band. Here, for the first time on a Band album, you get to hear the group's beginning as a rough rock & roll and blues combo, and while some of this material is a bit generic (albeit in the best possible sense, since they were a lean, tough, straight-ahead rock & roll group), this music echoes throughout the four CDs that follow, whether it's in the muscular R&B grooves of Levon Helm and Rick Danko, Robbie Robertson's tight, squealing guitar, or Richard Manual's piano chord clusters, or how the group touched on rockabilly, Motown, New Orleans R&B, country, and folk even on their earliest recordings. In this context, their teaming with Dylan not only seems like a natural outgrowth of their work as the struggling Levon & the Hawks, but it's clear that Dylan helped give the band focus and ideas, inspiring not just the songs that the group wrote for Music from Big Pink, but the whole Americana aesthetic that came to define the Band and made them separate from their rock & roll peers of the late '60s. Once A Musical History hits the second disc, the Band's story enters familiar territory and the revelations start drying up even if the unreleased material doesn't (there are a whopping 32 unreleased tracks on this 102-song set, and there's about ten or so other cuts that could qualify as rarities, as well). All the same, the conventional story line carries more weight here, since the first disc not only provides context, but because the sequencing and song selection are excellent, helping to drive the Band's story in addition to just being flat-out entertaining. Plus, there are some great rarities scattered throughout here, including an exciting, careening live version of Woody Guthrie's "I Ain't Got No Home" with Bob Dylan that was only released on a Woody tribute album, the funky, gritty "Baby Lou," a raucous "Slippin' & Slidin'" from the Festival Express tour in 1970, hard-rocking live versions of "Strawberry Wine" and "Look out Cleveland" from Royal Albert Hall in 1971, a live "Highway 61 Revisited" with Bob Dylan from a 1974 Madison Square Garden show, and Rick Danko's sweet, lazy unreleased "Home Cookin'" from 1976. These not only help keep a familiar story interesting to the hardcore fans (who, after all, are the primary audience for such a lavish set as this), but help fill little details within that story, along with illustrating how good the Band could sound as a band right up until the very end of their career. Despite all this, the arc of their career -- the sudden, glorious beginning and the slow descent into equal parts pretension and lethargy -- can't help but shine through in a biography such as this. No amount of well-chosen rarities and expert song sequencing (all the group's major songs, along with all of their noteworthy minor tunes, are here in some incarnation or another) can hide the downward turn in the Band's fortunes. There was a pretty steep decline in quality material after their third album, Stage Fright, in 1970, and while the next four studio albums, plus the live Rock of Ages and The Last Waltz, are summarized on the final two discs of the set, it's hard to ignore how covers keep popping up or how numerous songs are repeated in different versions (no matter how good the alternate versions are, it's clear that the group was running out of strong new songs), nor is it easy to ignore that the rest of the Band, for whatever reason, simply stopped writing, transferring the burden to Robbie Robertson, who struggled to come up with songs that seemed as effortless and graceful as his early songs, despite a slight rejuvenation on Northern Lights-Southern Cross. That doesn't mean these last two discs are bad -- far from it, they put the best spin on an uneven era -- but they do make it clear that the Band were caught at an awkward spot and were unable to successfully move forward, no matter how much Robertson prodded. As the accompanying DVD, which has nine live performances beginning with a 1970 clip from Woodstock and ending with three spots from Saturday Night Live in 1976, illustrates, Robertson had his mind elsewhere, but the rest of the guys were happy to simply be in a band. Being the one with ambitions, Robertson made the move and brought the curtains down on their career when the rest of the Band weren't necessarily ready to call it quits, as evidenced by their ongoing reunions in the '80s and '90s. Despite the existence of a touring Band minus their guitarist and songwriter, Robertson wound up as the member who was generally acknowledged as the one who kept the spirit of the group alive, at least according to the mainstream rock press. He also shepherded nearly all of the official Band reissues, including this one, where he acts as executive producer and the main interview for Rob Bowman's detail-heavy, perhaps too affectionate liner notes. Bowman's long piece ends abruptly when Robertson leaves the group; it's acknowledged that the Band soldiered on, but this fact is dismissed quickly, since it doesn't fit the romanticized notion of the Band's career that Robertson has been selling since Martin Scorsese's The Last Waltz. The bad blood between Robertson and Levon Helm runs too deep for them to make friends over this project (Garth Hudson is credited as an archival producer), but that acrimony is only noticeable within the liner notes to this beautiful hardcover book-styled box set. The five discs captures the Band at their peak as a band, containing their very best music. Music from Big Pink and The Band remain the essential, definitive albums, the records that not only capture their essence but have a nearly mythical grandeur. This box is for those who already know and love the group, who know their ups and downs, and who want to hear them in all their glory -- and, as this proves, the Band were glorious indeed.

Product Details

Release Date:


Disc 1

  1. Who Do You Love?
  2. You Know I Love You
  3. Further on Up the Road
  4. Nineteen Years Old
  5. Honky Tonk
  6. Bacon Fat
  7. Robbie's Blues
  8. Leave Me Alone
  9. Uh Uh Uh
  10. He Don't Love You (And He'll Break Your Heart)
  11. (I Want to Be) The Rainmaker
  12. The Stones I Throw
  13. The Stones I Throw (Will Free All Men)
  14. Go Go Liza Jane
  15. Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?
  16. Tell Me, Momma
  17. Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues
  18. Words and Numbers
  19. You Don't Come Through
  20. Beautiful Thing
  21. Caledonia Mission
  22. Odds and Ends
  23. Ferdinand the Imposter
  24. Ruben Remus
  25. Will the Circle Be Unbroken

Disc 2

  1. Katie's Been Gone
  2. Ain't No More Cane on the Brazos
  3. Don't Ya Tell Henry
  4. Tears of Rage
  5. To Kingdom Come
  6. In a Station
  7. The Weight
  8. We Can Talk
  9. Long Black Veil
  10. Chest Fever
  11. Lonesome Suzie
  12. This Wheel's on Fire
  13. I Shall Be Released
  14. Yazoo Street Scandal
  15. I Ain't Got No Home
  16. Orange Juice Blues (Blues for Breakfast)
  17. Baby Lou
  18. Long Distance Operator
  19. Key to the Highway
  20. Bessie Smith

Disc 3

  1. Across the Great Divide
  2. Rag Mama Rag
  3. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
  4. When You Awake
  5. Up on Cripple Creek
  6. Whispering Pines
  7. King Harvest (Has Surely Come)
  8. Get Up Jake
  9. Jemima Surrender
  10. Daniel and the Sacred Harp
  11. Time to Kill
  12. All la Glory
  13. The Shape I'm In
  14. Stage Fright
  15. The Rumor
  16. Slippin' & Slidin'
  17. Don't Do It
  18. Strawberry Wine
  19. Rockin' Chair
  20. Look Out Cleveland
  21. 4% Pantomime

Disc 4

  1. Life Is a Carnival
  2. When I Paint My Masterpiece
  3. The Moon Struck One
  4. The River Hymn
  5. Don't Do It
  6. Caledonia Mission
  7. Smoke Signal
  8. Unfaithful Servant
  9. The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show
  10. The Genetic Method
  11. Chest Fever
  12. (I Don't Want to Hang Up My) Rock 'N' Roll Shoes
  13. Loving You (Is Sweeter Than Ever)
  14. Endless Highway
  15. Move Me
  16. Two Piano Song
  17. Mystery Train

Disc 5

  1. Ain't Got No Home
  2. Share Your Love with Me
  3. Didn't It Rain
  4. Forever Young
  5. Rainy Day Women #12 & 35
  6. Highway 61 Revisited
  7. Ophelia
  8. Acadian Driftwood
  9. It Makes No Difference
  10. Twilight
  11. Christmas Must Be Tonight
  12. The Saga of Pepote Rouge
  13. Livin' in a Dream
  14. Forbidden Fruit
  15. Home Cookin'
  16. Out of the Blue
  17. Evangeline
  18. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
  19. The Weight

Disc 6

  1. Jam/King Harvest (Has Surely Come)
  2. Long Black Veil
  3. Rockin' Chair
  4. Don't Do It
  5. Hard Times (The Slop)/Just Another Whistle Stop
  6. The Genetic Method/Chest Fever
  7. Life Is a Carnival
  8. Stage Fright
  9. Georgia on My Mind

Album Credits

Performance Credits

Band   Primary Artist
Emmylou Harris   Guitar,Vocals
Dionne Warwick   Vocals
Roy Buchanan   Bass,Rhythm Guitar
Bob Dylan   Guitar,Harmonica,Vocals
Ronnie Hawkins   Vocals
Robbie Robertson   Acoustic Guitar,Harmonica,Piano,Vocals,Group Member
Tom "Bones" Malone   Trombone,Euphonium,Alto Flute,Bass Trombone
Rick Danko   Bass,Guitar,Trombone,Violin,Vocals,Celli,Violin (Bass),Group Member
Libby Titus   Vocals
Dee Dee Warwick   Vocals
John Simon   Piano,Tuba,Baritone Horn,Electric Piano,Tambourine,Peck Horn
Jim Gordon   Clarinet,Flute,Tenor Saxophone
Roebuck "Pops" Staples   Guitar,Vocals
Byron Berline   Fiddle
Joe Farrell   English Horn,Soprano Saxophone,Tenor Saxophone
Levon Helm   Bass,Guitar,Harmonica,Mandolin,Drums,Tambourine,Vocals,Hand Clapping,Finger Snapping,Group Member
Jerry Hey   Trumpet,Flugelhorn
Garth Hudson   Organ,Bagpipes,Piano,Accordion,Horn,Keyboards,Electric Piano,Piccolo,Baritone Saxophone,Soprano Saxophone,Tenor Saxophone,Bugle,Clavinet,Melodica,Roxichord,Group Member
Charlie Keagle   Clarinet,Flute,Alto Saxophone,Soprano Saxophone,Tenor Saxophone
Richard Manuel   Organ,Harmonica,Percussion,Piano,Drums,Electric Piano,Tambourine,Vocals,Clavinet,Hand Clapping,Finger Snapping,Pianette,Group Member
Earl McIntyre   Trombone
Van Morrison   Vocals
Larry Packer   Electric Violin
Mavis Staples   Vocals
Snooky Young   Trumpet,Flugelhorn
J.D. Parron   Alto Saxophone,E-flat Clarinet
Jerry Penfound   Flute,Saxophone
Yvonne Staples   Vocals
Cleotha Staples   Vocals
Mickey Jones   Drums
Howard Glover "Johnny" Johnson   Tuba,Bass Clarinet,Euphonium,Flugelhorn,Baritone Saxophone
Rich Cooper   Trumpet,Flugelhorn

Technical Credits

Big Bill Broonzy   Composer
Woody Guthrie   Composer
Band   Composer
Hoagy Carmichael   Composer
Bob Dylan   Composer,Artwork
Robbie Robertson   Composer,Producer,Executive Producer
Rick Danko   Composer
Bob Johnson   Producer
Jimmy Drew   Composer
John Simon   Producer
Noble "Thin Man" Watts   Composer
Lamont Dozier   Composer
Henry Glover   Producer
Jan Haust   Producer
Levon Helm   Composer
Clarence "Frogman" Henry   Composer
Eddie Holland   Composer
Brian Holland   Composer
Garth Hudson   Composer,Engineer
Ivy Jo Hunter   Composer
Deadric Malone   Composer
Richard Manuel   Composer
Ellas McDaniel   Composer
Van Morrison   Composer
McKinley Morganfield   Composer
Junior Parker   Composer
Cheryl Pawelski   Producer,Tape Research,Annotation
Don Robey   Composer
Eddie Ruscha   Cover Painting
Andrew Sandoval   Producer,Tape Research
Bob Smeaton   Director
Allen Toussaint   Horn Arrangements
Marijohn Wilkin   Composer
Stevie Wonder   Composer
Eddie Bocage   Composer
Sam Phillips   Composer
Rob Bowman   Annotation,Essay
Danny Dill   Composer
Richard Penniman   Composer
Diana Barnes   Art Direction
Charles Segar   Composer
Alfred Braggs   Composer
François Cousineau   translation
Traditional   Composer
Howard Glover "Johnny" Johnson   Horn Arrangements
Marcel Lefebure   translation
Duff Roman   Producer

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A Musical History 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Really this is quite magnificent. It's amazing how they make the band listenable even through their final period (on the fifth disc). There isn't much from the Last Waltz but that's what the Last Waltz box is for. Other than that, I don't think they missed anything really worth listening to. No sir.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love the band, but I still think that they haven't put everything that they have work on... or more of the people that they have work on... they work on an album, by john simon "should it add some of those tracks" they also worked with John Hammond, a really blues guitarist "check him out." They also work on an album by Jesse Winchester " a really hard to find album, love to see a reissue." and an album with Muddy Waters' Woodstock album... let me emphasies that some of the members worked on or with these artists and it would be interesting to hear their imput on some of those recordings... Oh I forgot they also worked with Eric Clapton's No Reason To Cry... these are some of the items that would really be interesting to hear... not just what they did with Bob Dylan and Ronnie Hawkins... but who knows maybe in another Boxed set...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago