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In the album catalogue of The Band, Stage Fright is often seen as their third best album behind their two previous releases, and that is a far assessment, but in my opinion it is an album that is so different from their previous records that it is quite a difficult one to judge against their others. As an album, it has to be one of my favourite albums by The Band to listen to, but then I have always enjoyed the more rock based style that they take on here. And this is what makes this album so different to Music From Big Pink and The Band (The Brown Album), as it doesn't contain some of their more folk/roots backing, instead moving into more guitar, piano and drums, which isn't a bad thing, as they are equally as adept at this as they are at the backing used on their previous albums.
The title of the album and some of the lyrics within it, are often seen as alluding to their growing success and popularity, as they began to come to terms with their stardom and fame. And despite the length of the main album itself, coming in at just over thirty-six minutes, it contains some of their most personal and finest songs, with themes ranging from the results of fame to drug use. It is a departure from their other releases, as I have stated, but in a way it was a necessary one, allowing them to move into different territory and try and change for the live environment that they were beginning to develop and improve upon.
The original concept for the album itself was for it to be recorded in front of a small audience, with the songs played consecutively to provide it with a more spontaneous and reactive feel. But this idea was put under intense pressure by the local authorities, with many envisaging the Woodstock area again being overrun with rock fans, leaving the local residents at a loose end, and so they simply recorded the songs in the Woodstock Playhouse in front on no one. In a sense this meant that the project became little more than recording an album in a slightly odd location, but the group said that the feeling produced from playing in an empty concert hall lead to some interesting song writing inspiration.
The tone of the album in comparison to their previous releases is far darker, and many of the features that were previously so prevalent were done away with, with fewer harmonies and a more individual feel, with the instruments and vocals forming layers rather than unity. This helps it on its way to becoming more of a rock & roll album, which for many was a turn off and broke down some of the aspects that made the group what they are, but for me it makes for a great album that proves they are not simply one trick ponies.
1. Strawberry Wine 2:36
2. Sleeping 3:17
3. Time To Kill 3:28
4. Just Another Whistle Stop 3:54
5. All La Glory 3:35
6. The Shape I'm In 4:00
7. The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show 3:00
8. Daniel And The Sacred Harp 4:13
9. Stage Fright 3:43
10. Rumour 4:16
11. Daniel And The Sacred Harp [Alternative Take] 5:01
12. Time To Kill [Alternative Mix] 3:26
13. The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show [Alternative Mix] 3:05
14. Radio Commercial 1:03
Total Run Time - 48:37
1. Strawberry Wine ****
It is often said that when Richard Manuel sang this, he was high, which is feasible considering his vocals on this track, with a far different tone to that of his previous songs with The Band. And then on top of that, the song itself does carry many references and indications of drugs, with the title itself perhaps the biggest indicator. And this part of rock & roll was one that had caught up with the group, as it did for many in the sixties and seventies, but then this seems to be in contrast to their family men attitude on their other releases. But despite all of this the song is pretty good, with a nice upbeat rhythm and backing, although not a classic for me by any means.
2. Sleeping *****
This song is more of a Band track, with a quiet start and some nice lyrics that build up to a more upbeat and powerful track. The song itself has a sense of being lost or separated from the rest of the world, which again would seem to be an appropriate idea for a group at the height of their powers. The vocals on this track are key and they perfectly blend with the guitar by Robertson that becomes more of a force on this album compared to the previous releases.
3. Time To Kill *****
This continues in a similar fashion, with a more individual vocal that gives this song more of a bar feel, with the group playing to a small audience, as they had intended. The content of the lyrics continues on from Sleeping, with the feeling of separation, done in a rather upbeat fashion that is not sad for the loss of contact, but rather overjoyed with the freedom and success that comes from fame. This song is a bit light on the backing side and many of the instruments simply play subsidiary roles, but with another guitar solo following on from the chorus.
4. Just Another Whistle Stop *****
This for me has to be one of the best songs on the album, with a more complex backing and dynamic feel, going from a straight vocal verse to a heightened chorus, although it is really the level of instrumentation that makes this possible. It is a song about movement and going from place to place, but it also does that in terms of the structure, taking you on a train ride, although for far less expense. This is not a song that would be found on their previous releases, but it sits right at home here, with its more rock & roll based backing and style, the most prominent feature of the album itself.
5. All La Glory *****
This song is very similar to Sleeping, with a low key slow start that builds up for the chorus and the later verses, although not to the same extent. This though I feel makes it the better of the two, with more of a n emotional connection and basis, where the other may simply be a progression of sound, this is a progression of love lost and found. The vocals are nice, but for me lack some of the conviction and feel of earlier records, a point I raised on Strawberry Wine, but then this muted feel helps the song and puts across the lyrics well.
6. The Shape I'm In *****
The next five songs, starting with this, are for me the highlights on the album, taking on a more concert-like feeling, with the more powerful backing and vocal harmony. This song was played at many of their concerts, notably The Last Waltz, taking on a bigger arrangement, although the more subdues affair here is just as good, putting across the battered feel of the lyrics and some of the reasons for that, again success and fame is to blame.
7. The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show *****
I love this song, although the mix on the bonus track is probably more of an event, but this song about the various characters involved with The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show, and the show itself. The lyrics are slightly fun and silly, but that helps the backing, which is itself very big and over the top, something that would have been appropriate for the setting that they describe. The brass band in the background give this song a bigger sound, lifting it ahead of some of the other tracks and making it stick in your mind, which is probably one of the reasons I like it as much as I do.
8. Daniel And The Sacred Harp *****
The lyrics of this song fall back towards some of the more biblical, narrative pieces of the previous albums, describing the rise and fall of Daniel as he gains the Sacred Hap, which despite being highly prized by him, leads to his fall from grace. The song is done is such a vocal style that the voice of Daniel is sung by one of the group and the other parts by Manuel. This helps to give the song more of a narrative feel, and helps to split the song up, but it is really the lyrics of the song that make this song what it is. The backing is done in a similar style to The Weight, but with a slightly darker feel, as with the rest of the album, and perhaps indicating the change in the group as they developed and grew in fame.
9. Stage Fright *****
The title track of the album is another classic, with some nice guitar work that creates the backdrop for this song, which is more explicit in the troubles that face them now that they are famous and successful. The boy in the song gains all of his desires and becomes rich and famous, but he soon finds that he is a changed person and is no longer able to live in the way that he wants, losing his freedom. The lyrics themselves though are backed by some great instrumentation, building and falling when needed to give the song a dynamic feel as well as sticking to the song material.
10. The Rumour *****
This drops in pace from the last track, and is again quite explicit in some of its reference to stardom, with the Rumour indicated in the song likely to be a parallel to the trouble with fame as magazines and tabloid papers try and fan the flames of a rumour to excessive proportions. This song though I feel is more of a message to their fans, indicating that Rumours are often simply created and altered beyond that which they really are, and pleading to them that they shouldn't believe everything that they read.
11. Daniel And The Sacred Harp [Alternative Take] *****
After a false start, a feature of many of the alternate takes given on the remastered Capitol albums for The Band, the group go into a take of Daniel And The Sacred Harp that features more harmonies and what I feel to be a louder mix. The vocals themselves aren't quite as polished as the take on the album, but it does offer a slightly different feel to the song, with what I feel to be a bigger sound. The song on the whole though is pretty much the same as the original.
12. Time To Kill [Alternative Mix] *****
This song, as well as the next were apparently made because for some reason two different people took the master tapes home to mix, and these were the results, both slightly bigger in terms of the sound, with a few differences in the focus and dynamic of the song. But for the most part they are the same as the final versions on the main album.
13. The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show [Alternative Mix] *****
This mix though is the one that I prefer, with a larger sound that gives more focus to the backing, one of the main strengths of the original song, with the brass backing notably brought slightly forward in the mix and given more focus. This larger sound helps to give the song that slightly over-the-top and crowded feel, a for me that improves upon the earlier mix, but again the differences are only slight and you would need to know the songs well to hear them, as well as a good set of speakers.
14. Radio Commercial N/A
This is simply the radio commercial that was put out for the album, featuring someone talking over a few of the songs and simply stating the group and the name of the album, before closing with the phrase, "And the Band plays on", a line that I feel is very much suited to the album, showing that they are still here and able to put out a good album in the process.
Overall then, this is an album that features a different feel to both Music From Big Pink and The Band, but in doing so shows that the group are able to provide a more rock-based album and pull it off with great aplomb. I love this album though, and even though it is a different style, they are suited to it, providing one of the best sides of record I have heard in side 2. And although it doesn't feature the same level of bonus tracks as the previous releases, the strength of the material on the album itself is enough to more than warrant the purchase of the album for fans of The Band, or those who like roots/folk rock, as I would still put this in that category, despite the leanings towards the latter part of that tag. Thus, a great album that provides just as many classics and high points as their previous releases.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Strawberry Wine
3 Time To Kill
4 Just Another Whistle Stop
5 All La Glory
6 Shape I'm In
7 WS Walcott Medicine Show
8 Daniel And The Sacred Harp
9 Stage Fright
11 Daniel And The Sacred Harp
12 Time To Kill
13 WS Walcott Medicine Show
14 Radio Commercial