Recorded live on May 23, 1998 and originally released just a couple months before Rick Danko’s death at the age of 56, the reissue of Live On Breeze Hill is a solid and occasionally surprising album that finds the Band bassist performing songs from his time with that fabled, er, band.
Supported by a backing group that includes fellow Bander Garth Hudson, Aaron “Louie” Hurwitz, Lenny Pickett, and Blues Brother alum Tom “Bones” Malone, Danko reinterprets Band standards, sometimes in a way that reveals striking differences from their better-known studio versions.
Though these live cuts don’t surpass those from Danko’s days with The Band, it’s certainly not a maudlin trip into pointless nostalgia or a case of a performer simply reliving his glory days at the audience’s expense. There’s much to like here.
After a studio version of “Sip The Wine,” which is inexplicably included as the first track on this live album and is inessential to anyone except the most ardent/obsessive Band or Danko fan, the concert opens with “Twilight,’ which sets the template for most of the songs that follow. With a nice instrumental intro, an accordion-driven melody, horns, and guitar flourishes that I’m told are required to be described as “liquidy,” it’s far more restrained than its studio counterpart. Though Danko’s vocals sometimes tend to get a little thin and strained, the song includes the trademark harmonies that are immediately reminiscent of his work with The Band. It’s an effective reworking of the song.
Similarly, “Ophelia” moves along with a pace and horn arrangement that differentiates it from its earlier incarnations. It’s far less frantic than the album version from Northern Lights-Southern Cross. “Caledonia Mission” is likewise reworked into a slow and almost mournful song of regret; with subtle horns and minimal piano, it’s far more stripped down than the cut included on Music From Big Pink.