For a long time, the only song I knew by The Band was “The Weight” and, though I like it, I think it put me off listening to anything else by them. It’s a great song, but a bit nursery rhyme-y and I just assumed all their songs were going to be like that. Fortunately, I gave Music From Big Pink a chance and discovered that there’s much more depth to their songs than I was expecting.
The Band were previously part of Bob Dylan’s touring band, and his influence is all over this album. The languid “Tears of Rage” is rightly regarded as one of the best opening tracks on a debut album ever, and “I Shall Be Released” has to be one of the greatest closers too. It’s no surprise that Dylan had a hand in writing both.
Music From Big Pink isn’t just a Dylan rip-off though, and songs like “To Kingdom Come” and “Chest Fever” more than hold their own against his contributions. There’s a looseness and a sense of camaraderie on here that you don’t really find on Dylan albums, with band members swapping instruments and vocal duties on many songs. Songs like “The Weight” and “This Wheel’s On Fire” hark back to their roots as a good time bar band, but the absorption of soul and folk influences into their sound – along with country and rock & roll – means there’s a level of sophistication to their songs that has elevated them above their peers and helped them stand the test of time. The musicianship is excellent too – each member of The Band is an expert player of their instrument.
Each time I hear Music From Big Pink, I like it a little bit more and it’s inspired me to listen to more by The Band. I’ve not rated it as highly as others I’ve reviewed because it doesn’t mean as much to me as some of those do, but it definitely deserves its status as a classic.