This month Robbie Robertson, the chief songwriter and driving creative force of The Band, turned 70. As The Band themselves noted, the simultaneous humility and arrogance of being called “The Band” is genius. “We’re just the band,” versus, “We are The Band.” It’s a little bit like having a radio show called “The Two.”
Other than loving their name, there are a few other things I love about The Band which I explained in this piece I wrote following the death of their drummer Levon Helm last year. Here’s a part of that article:
“They might not have been the biggest act of all time, but their influence was substantial and their music timeless. Just seeing the list of artists who have paid tribute to Helm (Bob Dylan, Elton John, Sheryl Crow etc) is testament to his standing in music history and a reminder of the quality of Robbie Robertson’s songwriting.
Songs like The Weight and The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down are parts gospel, folk, country and rock and are embedded in the American fabric. As a singing drummer with a timber in his voice that breathed life and authenticity into Robertson’s words (often filled with Biblical imagery and tales of generations ago), Levon Helm was one of the greats.”
In that article I linked to three songs, including Elton John’s Levon – inspired by Levon Helm and the fanship of The Band that both Elton and lyricist Bernie Taupin had in the early 70s. Another song featured was I Shall Be Released in its finest version, that of the live performance from Martin Scorcese’s film The Last Waltz. And for the final song, here is what I wrote about a Robbie Robertson song I regard as being superior, at least in an emotional sense, even to his most famous work The Weight:
“…featured on one of their latter albums, Northern Lights Southern Cross, Acadian Driftwood is a Canadian/American history lesson with wondrous ragged harmonies, tales of ice-fishing and persecuted people and a French-sung ending to get the hairs on the back of the neck standing.”
Particularly for you if you’ve never heard it before, here is the remarkable Acadian Driftwood: