Archive for the ‘2021’ Category

‘Cahoots’ Gets A Re-Make

Wednesday, December 15th, 2021

“Life Is A Carnival,” sang The Band on the group’s 1971 album Cahoots, an album that also contained the group’s take on Bob Dylan’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” a duet with Van Morrison titled “4% Pantomime,” and the elegiac “River Hymn.”

I heard some of those on the radio, maybe – “Life Is A Carnival” was the first single pulled from the album, and it went only to No. 72 on the Billboard Hot 100, leaving me wondering on which station I heard it (KVSC-FM at St. Cloud State is my guess this morning) – and I heard some at friends’ homes and at other places in St. Cloud during my college years.

I wasn’t impressed. Even though I had the group’s self-titled 1969 album – an album I loved – at home, the bits and pieces of Cahoots that I heard left me cold. So I forgot about the album until the late 1980s, when a lady friend of mine began to explore the music of The Band for the first time, and I came along, adding Cahoots in early 1988. And I added the CD to the collection in 2018.

It still didn’t impress me. It sounded flat, unfinished somehow. I might have pulled it out of the stacks once or twice to put “When I Paint My Masterpiece” on a mixtape or a CD for a friend, but that would have been about it. Unlike Music From Big Pink, The Band, or even Stage Fright, it wasn’t an album I sought out for casual listening.

And I began to understand my decades-long reaction yesterday when a delivery truck dropped off the two-CD fiftieth anniversary edition of the album. The notes in the accompanying booklet tell how the album came to be created in the first place: With the group recording whatever the five musicians had at hand while helping Albert Grossman figure out how to finish off his Bearsville studio in Woodstock, New York.

The notes, by Rob Bowman, explain that The Band – especially Robbie Robertson – had always felt Cahoots to be unfinished because of the lack of facilities at Bearsville at the time. And that meant that preparing the fiftieth anniversary version offered an opportunity to mix and master the album the way the group would have liked in 1971.

Robertson and engineer Bob Clearmountain have both been involved in three previous fiftieth anniversary reissues of albums by The Band: Music From Big Pink, The Band, and Stage Fright. Those projects, both men say in comments in the new edition’s notes, involved enhancing the sound of the three albums, making them sound better while keeping the albums’ characters and general sound the same. Their work with Cahoots, the two say, was to make the album sound like it should have sounded.

Much of the commentary supporting that approach comes from Bowman’s interviews with Robertson. Although there are general quotes from the other members of The Band about the making of Cahoots that come from previously published material, it’s probably good to remember that Richard Manuel, Rick Danko and Levon Helm are gone and unavailable for current comment. A few comments from Garth Hudson make their way into Bowman’s notes, but it’s basically Robertson’s views that prevail.

So, does it work? I have yet to absorb the whole album in its new state. And I think I’ll be going back and forth between the new version and the old one at odd times for a while, trying to internalize the changes. (That’s true, too, of the live bootleg of a 1971 performance by the group in Paris that’s included on the second CD of the package.  And both CDs have bonus tracks of outtakes and alternate takes from the Cahoots sessions.)

As “Life Is A Carnival” started to come out of the speakers here yesterday, I reminded myself that different isn’t always better. But, at least for that track, it is. The track, enhanced even more now by Allen Toussaint’s horn arrangement, has a kick it’s never had. As I wander through the rest of the new album, comparing it to the old one, I hope I continue to be pleased.

Here’s the new version of “Life Is A Carnival.”