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DVD Review: The Band–Classic Albums

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As a film student in college, I was a firm believer in “Good enough for Scorsese, good enough for me.” If Scorsese had released a film of himself flipping off the camera for 2 hours, I would have applauded his minimalist approach to personal filmmaking. Hence, my initiation to The Band via Scorsese’s seminal concert film The Last Waltz, which chronicled The Band’s farewell concert in 1976.

The story of Bob Dylan’s backup band turned rock legends The Band is told in great detail in this edition of “The Classic Albums” series by Eagle Rock Entertainment. The band’s self-titled second album is the basis for the 75 minute documentary, but plenty of ground is covered regarding the roots of the band, and their equally great first album, Music From Big Pink.

One the best aspects of the Classic Albums series is the detail given regarding the recording of the album, especially the isolation of certain vocal tracks to show how the album was put together. Considerable time is spent on the recording of the album in great detail. This should be required viewing for anyone planning on recording music.

Interviews with surviving members Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Rick Danko and producer John Simon provide meaningful detail that brings the viewer into the recording of the album, complete with Simon drawing a diagram of where everyone was situated in Sammy Davis Jr.’s pool house, where the album was recorded in Los Angeles. The film also includes stock footage of the group before, during and after the recording of the album.

The film includes plenty of concert footage as well, including lots of Levon Helm’s expressive singing from behind the drum kit, especially on “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”. When listening to The Band, you’d swear that they were all from well below the Mason-Dixon Line. In fact, Helm was the only Southerner in a group of mainly Canadians who desperately wanted to immerse themselves in the lore and music of the Deep South. Robbie Robertson may have been the face of the group, but Helm was the backbone, singing lead on many of The Band’s greatest hits, and providing the Southern gravitas that allowed the band to pull off their style.

The film also touches on the contributions as well as the troubled life of Richard Manuel, oftentimes the lead singer of a group loaded with singers, who committed suicide in 1986. Eric Clapton remembers Manuel as being a fascinating person with an incredible energy that drew people to him.

As usual, The Classic Albums series hits a home run with their informative but not cumbersome history of the group’s best years. Bernie Taupin, Eric Clapton and George Harrison provide their opinions of The Band’s considerable influence in the late 60’s and early 70’s.

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