Gold Soundz: "Jawbone"

There’s no way I could shed any new light on the legacy of The Band, so there’s no reason to try. But lately I’ve been listening to the very worthwhile A Musical History boxed set every chance I get and marveling once again at the scope of the music therein. The music and mystique created by Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, and Garth Hudson, especially during the Big Pink era that yielded Music From Big Pink and The Band, are damn near unparalleled in the canon of American music. To call them a rock band is missing the point - I can think of no other band in rock history that melded so many influences so seamlessly. One only need watch or listen to The Band perform alongside such diverse luminaries as Dr. John, Muddy Waters, Ronnie Hawkins, Emmylou Harris, and The Staples Singers during their farewell concert, The Last Waltz, for proof of this.

When looking back over the 15 or so year career of The Band it’s inevitably the years from around 1965 to 1969 (the Dylan/Big Pink years) that get the majority of the focus, and rightfully so. And ironically for me, one of my favorite songs of this period, Richard Manuel’s “Jawbone”, is the one and only song from the eponymous second album that is not included on the boxed set. I can’t really understand its omission - to me it captures the old world aura the Band so thoroughly crafted as well or better than any other. Like many of those songs, “Jawbone” sounds like it could have been written at any point over the previous, oh, 100 years or so - some long lost Civil War-era folk song as easily as modern rock. I’m sure that’s mostly me completely buying into the scruffy little hobo promotional pictures (like the one above), but still.

The other thing that wrecks me about “Jawbone” is the chorus - I’ve never been able to understand a word Manuel is singing. I have no idea what the song’s about, no idea what that powerful melody is saying - but it sounds perfect nonetheless. I’d like to keep it that way too. I know that no matter what the words are, they can’t match the emotion, the conviction, Manuel puts behind them. To know what they are may just take away from that connection I’ve made with their sound. The meaning is meaningless. An overlooked gem in their canon, no doubt.

MP3 :: Jawbone
(from The Band. Buy here)

Right now I’m also really enjoying “Ophelia”, from the 1976 album Northern Lights-Southern Cross. Those classic early years (“The Weight”, “Up On Cripple Creek”, “Stage Fright”, etc.) are rightfully lauded, and while they had clearly passed their creative peak by the mid-70s, the later years were certainly full of their share of classic tunes. “Ophelia” is sung by Levon, and with its jaunty, playful lyrics and horn arrangement sounds like it’d be ready for a steamy New Orleans evening. I’m not saying it’s my favorite Band song, but right now it’s sure doing the trick.

MP3 :: Ophelia
(from A Musical History. Buy here)

And here’s the live version recorded for The Last Waltz, with Garth Hudson’s “Chest Fever”-tease organ solo intro:


As a bonus, and to give Rick Danko equal face time with Manuel and Helm, here’s one of the many previously unreleased gems scattered about on A Musical History. Again it’s a late-period track, this time written and sung by Danko, and for some reason left off the 1977 album Islands.

MP3 :: Home Cookin’
(from A Musical History. Buy here)

1 comment:

Wayne said...

I was given "A Musical History" for Christmas and I played it constantly for a month. You are right, just a classically great band. And their voices just hit me every single time.