Stage Fright was The Band’s third studio album. It featured darker lyrics and textures and fewer harmonies as Robbie Robertson moved his guitar out front on many of the tracks. He would write or co-write all ten songs and provide the musical vision for the album.
The reviews for Stage Fright were less positive than for Music From Big Pink and The Band yet the album has held up well over the years. It contained very personal music rather than the American based myths and legends that graced The Band's first two releases.
Richard Manuel would co-write two songs with Robertson and provide the lead vocals on a number of tracks. While Manuel would continue to contribute to The Band’s sound, he would never write another song. In many ways his personal descent had started and several of the songs contained on Stage Fright can be interpreted as chronicling the beginning of the problems that would ultimately take his life.
“Strawberry Wine” is a brilliant creation. Levon Helm provides the vocal and Garth Hudson drives the song along with his keyboards. It is lyrically a song about a drunk who wants to be left alone, yet the song comes across as a joyous romp. It was part of Robbie Robertson’s genius that he could write songs for the other members of the group on which they could shine.
“Sleeping” was co-written by Manuel. The song is about loneliness and staying out of the limelight but retains a subtle romantic underpinning. Whether this is a story about his life is unknown but it fits in many ways. “The Rumor,” which closes out the album, features a soulful lead vocal by him. It is a wistful and poignant song which is ultimately about hope. “The Shape I’m In” features another Manuel lead vocal but this time he is in rock mode, which is a place he would not visit enough during his career with The Band.
“Stage Fright” is a story song and can almost be considered biographical in that Robertson was never comfortable on stage. “Just Another Whistle Stop” features some of his tasty guitar chops. “The W.S. Walcott Medicine Shop” presents a slice of life on the road. “Daniel and The Sacred Harp” is another story song at which The Band was so proficient. “Time To Kill” is a straight rock song that allows his guitar playing to step forward.
Stage Fright may not have been as endearing as Music From Big Pink and The Band but it was still a very good and personal stop in the creation of The Band’s musical legacy.