The Band returned in 1975 with their first album of all new original material in four years. The group had re-located to California and Robbie Robertson was inspired to write all the material for this release. While several members of The Band had begun to experience personal problems, at least in the studio they proved to be focused and were able to create an excellent album.
The songs were a little longer than usual for The Band but because only eight tracks were included on the album it was be their shortest release. In this case brevity translated into excellence as Northern Lights, Southern Cross would be The Band’s last truly superior studio album.
The album’s first track, “Forbidden Fruit,” would find a different Robbie Robertson. His guitar sound and particularly his soloing were more apparent and up front than in the past. The other surprise was Garth Hudson was now playing a synthesizer. While this veered the group from their traditional sound; it also gave Hudson more flexibility in creating new textures for the group’s work together. “Forbidden Fruit,” is at its heart, a biblical epic and a rock ‘n’ roll song all rolled into one.
“Hobo Justice” is an acoustic rock song. Richard Manuel is the vocalist and he creates a soulful sound the runs counterpoint to the song’s structure.
“Arcadian Driftwood” was a brilliant creation by Robertson. It returned The Band to the earthy sound of Music From Big Pink and The Band. It was a mesmerizing history lesson presented through music. The harmonies of Danko, Helm and Manuel were perfect.
The other five tracks all had something to recommend them. “Ring Your Bell” features a sweet duet by Danko and Manuel. “It Makes No Difference” returned The Band to their traditional harmony sound. “Jupiter Moon” is almost a flight of fantasy. “Rags and Bones” features Robertson on acoustic guitar again but the highlight of the track is a perfect stereo mix. “Ophelia” is probably the best know song from the album and contains a subtle and delicate song structure written by Robertson.
Northern Lights, Southern Cross is a very representative album by The Band. It presents the joys and sadness of life within the context of the musical form. At the time of its release 33 years ago it left the listening public wanting more.