The Band – Cahoots Remixed and Remastered

By Album is copyright 1971 by Capitol Records., Fair use,

I have enjoyed the reissues of The Band’s first three albums, Music From Big Pink, The Band, and Stage Fright, and would welcome a remix and remaster of Rock of Ages. That being said, I am not as impressed, so far, with the reissue of Cahoots. I say “so far” for two reasons; first, it sometimes takes repeated listens for an album to make an impression on me, and, second, I have not yet listened to the live concert tracks.

I remember when the album was released in 1971. I was fourteen and had been a fan since 1969. For me, the first three albums were almost like cinematic experiences. I would listen to them in their entirety trying to visualize the landscapes and the characters that were evoked by the music. Cahoots was different. After listening to it a few times I found myself only listening to a few songs – Life is a Carnival, When I Paint my Masterpiece, and especially 4% Pantomime because I was a huge Van Morrison fan and loved the combination of his singing with Richard Manuel’s. However, the rest of the album didn’t seem to hold up to or warrant repeated listenings.

I have what may be a controversial theory as to why that was true. I don’t believe that The Band was ever just Robbie Robertson and musicians for hire, that Robertson was a composer and bandleader in the sense that Frank Zappa or Miles Davis was. I can’t help but feel that Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, and Garth Hudson contributed mightily to the songs on the first three albums both in the music and the lyrics. By the time they recorded Cahoots the fiction that Robertson later created had become reality, except they were still not turning on his microphone.

The three best songs on the album are telling. One is a cover of a Dylan song, one is only notable for a duet between Richard Manuel and Van Morrison, and the last, Life is a Carnival, is still using some of the imagery of the American South (and horn charts) left from previous albums. I have no proof so I can’t say this with any certainty but it seems to me that, as talented as Robbie Robertson is, he relied on the collaboration of the rest of The Band for the songwriting on the first three albums because the weakness of this album, Cahoots, is the songs, not the musicianship which is excellent. By this time it appears that the others are truly functioning as musicians for hire.

The well had run dry, there was no more cane on the Brazos. What you have left is Robbie Robertson mostly bereft of reminiscence of Levon’s Arkansas with its colorful characters, tent shows, and lost cause memories, Dylan’s Wheels on Fire with Danko’s music, Hudson’s Genetic Method, and Richard’s plaintive cries. Most of the songs are caricatures of their previous output. Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin. It was not surprising that the Last Waltz was imminent.

But, ‘Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?’ As for the outtakes, I would have thought that both Don’t Do It and Endless Highway would have enhanced the original album. Unfortunately, I don’t have my 1971 pressing of the album to compare it to this reissue but, this version, to my ear, has even slightly more reverb than the 2000 remaster which was already heavy-handed in its use. I am only an amateur producer but I would have thought that with the directive from Robertson to engineer Bob Clearmountain to ‘Just think of the original mixes as rough mixes. Pretty much don’t pay attention to the mixes themselves’ would have given him permission to start with a dry mix on the stems. I, for one, would have loved to hear the vocals upfront without so much reflection. Nevertheless, the bass and drums have gained definition and sound great.

Is Cahoots The Band’s Let It Be? It would appear so. They were falling apart creatively. Unfortunately for all concerned except Robbie who had songwriting credits, all they would have left after this was performance royalties. They were doomed to become a covers band.

Edit: I listened to the live concert and the performance is excellent but the sound quality at times is bootleg quality. Nevertheless, it is very enjoyable and a testament to how good they were as a live band. Not surprising as they had been on the road with Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan for a decade before their first album.

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