Cahoots is one of the weakest albums in The Band's catalogue. A weak Band album, however, is still a little above average. It may have been three straight years of incessant touring and recording but they appeared tired. Robbie Robertson again wrote or co-wrote all the songs on the album except for one Dylan tune but, the song was more uneven than in the past. They would not release another album of original material for four years.
Cahoots is a more scattered album. It does not have the personal darkness of Stage Fright or the brilliance of Music From Big Pink or The Band. In some way it can be considered almost experimental as they would strike out in a number of directions with mixed results.
“Life Is A Carnival” continued the trend of leading off each album with a superior song. The track was written by Levon Helm, Rick Danko, and Robbie Robertson. The quality of this group effort makes a person think that Robertson may have needed help at this point in his career. The group effort is representative of The Band’s best material. They also brought in Allen Toussaint to provide a horn background which proved to be a good match.
There are several other songs of note contained on Cahoots. The Band gives a credible performance of Bob Dylan’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece.” The lyrical interpretation is right on and Garth Hudson contributes some creative accordion accompaniment. “4% Pantomime” features a vocal duet between Richard Manuel and Van Morrison. Manuel sounds engaged on this song and makes the modern day listener wish he had been more ambitious during this phase of their career. “Thinkin’ Out Loud” features classic vocal harmonies that are all too few on this album. “Where Do We Go From Here” could have been a career statement at this point in their life but it does feature beautiful vocals.
Songs such as “Last Of The Blacksmiths,” “Volcano,” “Shoot Out In Chinatown,” and “Smoke Signal” are not bad in any sense of the word, but just do not measure up to what The Band had produced on their first three albums. I believe that the song structures are fine but the lyrics are lacking in overall quality.
Cahoots remains interesting in places but is not a classic The Band album. What it did provide was a place for them to stop and re-orientate themselves before proceeding on with their rock ‘n’ rock hall of fame career.