1973 found The Band unable or unwilling to release an album of original material. The same situation in 1972 produced the excellent live album, Rock Of Ages. They would travel a different journey in 1973 and release an album of cover songs.
Moondog Matinee would take its name from an old Alan Freed radio show. The original intent was to return to their early rock ‘n’ roll days when they were known as Levon and The Hawks. Unfortunately, it did not reach fruition as they were now far from the sound of those days. What did result was an excellent album of unique covers by one of the best rock bands in the world.
The instrumental expertise of Robbie Robertson and Garth Hudson drive the album’s music along. Robertson was an under the radar guitarist who was improving with each release. His solos were now confident as well as creative. Garth Hudson was one of the best keyboardists in rock music and his use of an organ sound to enhance, and at times, dominate a rock band was both unique and inspirational.
While The Band had four exquisite voices, it was Richard Manuel that came closest to being the lead singer. The Platters classic hit, “The Great Pretender,” is given a soulful vocal by Manuel. He was one of those rare singers who could take a song and make it a personal experience for the listener. The Leiber and Stoller tune, “Saved,” is taken in a gospel like direction by Manuel. He explores the textures of this song with just his vocal instrument.
The Band pays tribute to former contributor Allen Toussaint by giving his song, “Holy Cow,” a work-out. Rick Danko’s vocal leads the assault on this track. Danko also shows an ability to translate a straight rhythm & blues song, “A Change Is Gonna Come,” into a rock setting.
I have always thought the old movie song, “The Third Man Theme,” was an odd and ultimately brilliant choice for inclusion on the album. The original featured a zither. Here, Garth Hudson, turns his organ loose with interesting results.
Other songs of note include a rocking version of Chuck Berry’s, “The Promised Land,” a unique take on the old Elvis song, “Mystery Train,” which appears with some new lyrics and a funky “Ain’t Got No Home” with Levon Helm as the frog.
Moondog Matinee may have found The Band in a holding pattern in 1973, but the album proved a nice place to visit. It would end up as a unique release in The Band’s catalogue and remains interesting and very listenable today.