Despite having no pressing news and no fun travel stories about cheese and car trouble, I find myself with the time and the readership to necessitate frequent updates to this here blog.
[Ed. No pressing news, you say! What about the impending release of Ooh La La, Sha Sha… ??? That’s not pressing?]
Yeah, yeah, we’ve promising that for years.
[Yes, but this time it’s really happening. CD release parties have been announced in Boston, Providence, Portland, Nantucket & New York. There’s even a tour planned!]
Okay, fine, but that’s not why we’re here.
You see, I get requests to hear about the ins and outs of Miss Fairchild and believe me, I’d like to tell you. I’m sure you’d love to know that Samuel never finishes his breakfast or that Daddy Wrall uses seventeen feet of floss whenever he cleans his teeth. Maybe you want to know about Trick and Rocket’s sneaker preferences (they like shoes better, I reckon). Or maybe you want to know about me. I am, after all, your humble (laugh if you want, I won’t be sore) tourguide on this homemade rollercoaster called Miss Fairchild. Okay, fine, you don’t want to know about me…
I’m cool with that. This is a blog about the group, after all. What is Miss Fairchild like? What does Miss Fairchild like? (Well, the abstract answer to those questions will be answered soon in another blog.) As far as specifics go, however, I can say with a fair amount of certainty that we like The Band.
As in the Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson, Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson Band. (Yep, the one with all the Canadians.)
Now, if the Canadian thing weren’t enough, and it damn nearly is (apologies to Levon, who’s from Arkansas), they’ve got a few things going for them. Hair, harmonies, herky jerky drumming to name three. But I’m not here to talk about The Band. I’m here to talk about The Band‘.
Yes, that eponymous second LP that they released in 1969. Now, there are a lot of great records out there that I could write about. And a lot of great records that apply WAY more directly to this thing we’re doing at Miss Fairchild, Incorporated. I probably will write about them someday. But you can figure what they are by yourselves. Look to our most basic musical influences like these folks for that. But The Band, they might go unsung among our musical heroes if I don’t say something. (And hell, it’s not as though this record is flying under the radar. A few people have said some nice things about it over the years.)
And I’m no expert or anything. Far from it. I’m just a guy that likes this record and wants you to give it a shot.
[Ed. Whew! Enough with the disclaimers! We want content.]
Okay, so what’s so great? Name six.
1. Richard Manuel’s Singing: Man, this guy has soul. And the fact that super casual fans only know Levon’s voice (also fantastic, by the way) is so wacky. Yeah, he sang most of the hits, but people, you’re missing out! My favorite Manuel moments are “When You Awake” and “King Harvest (Has Surely Come)” Manuel plays some fantastic piano on this record, but I have to be honest in saying that I could do without his drumming on “Jemima Surrender.” That could have something to do with the fact that number two on this list is…
2. Levon Helm’s Drumming: Call it ‘stuttery’ or ‘hiccup style’, I don’t really care. Point is, this man knows how to play a song. Not just a beat, mind you, but a song. I feel pretty strongly that he plays best on the songs that he sings. “Up On Cripple Creek: and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” are obvious choices here. He manages to play very melodically, continually propelling the lyric and marking sections with his choices. And that doesn’t even count the way his drums sound. (Really good, I say.)
3. Feel Good Music: “Look Out Cleveland” is a great example of this. The best on the record with apologies to “Cripple Creek.” I happen to love Rick Danko’s singing, even if you can hardly tell it apart from Manuel’s half the time. They manage to avoid blending when harmonizing by singing with remarkable different phrasing. Great sloppy ending by the way…
4. Horns: Many thanks to John Simon and Garth Hudson for the beautiful counter-melody on the second verse of “The Unfaithful Servant” when Danko says “I can hear the whistle blowing.” That stuff is gorgeous.
5. Concept Songs: We have a union story in “King Harvest” and the American Civil War in “Dixie.” And great stories in all of these songs. It took me about ten listens to realize that I was listening to an album that wasn’t all ‘love songs.’ And as much as I love ‘love songs,’ this has been about twenty breaths of fresh air.
6. The Spirit of Cooperation: Hey, I know these guys ended badly, and I have read a few things about Levon Helm’s autobiography and Robbie Robertson’s alleged back stabbing. So, it ain’t all peaches, but this album is clearly a work of collaboration with equal contributions from some amazing musicians. The fact that so much of it was performed live is amazing (and completely believable based on some really poignant audible ‘mistakes’).
In the end, the songs are great, the production really breathes and the energy of the record is palpable in each song. As Miss Fairchild moves more and more toward that Gut Bucket, Tabacco Chaw, Hoo Doo Country-Funk that we all (Miss Fairchild, that is) like so much, look for some Band to shine through…