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The Band – Cahoots 50th anniversary deluxe LP (Capitol/UMe)

25 September 2022

The Band’s fourth album Cahoots is celebrated with a deep dive into the quintet’s career circa 1971. “Life is a Carnival” launches the album with a portrait of a street hustler and horn charts by New Orleans luminary Allen Toussaint. Toussaint’s horns were also prominent on ensuing live album Rock of Ages.

Drummer Levon Helm sings former boss Bob Dylan’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece” with his amiable Southern drawl in an arrangement featuring Garth Hudson’s rustic accordion. Pianist Richard Manuel belts “Last of the Blacksmiths” accompanied by Robbie Robertson’s twanging Telecaster. Bassist Rick Danko sings the randy “Volcano,” and the song highlights Hudson’s wailing saxophone. “Shootout in Chinatown” describes numbered days for the part of San Francisco where “crime and love go hand in hand.” Robertson taps his Native American roots for “Smoke Signal” and stretches out on guitar for extended solos with twinkling saloon piano counterpoint. “4% Pantomime” finds the hardworking Band road-weary, begging their agent “not to book the jobs so far apart.” Manuel trades vocals with guest Van Morrisson during the song.

Despite such respect, the Band’s success at radio was dimming by 1971. Cahoots didn’t produce a major hit, but the album features tight interplay and impassioned performances. This sense carries into a live album featuring the second set and encore from Paris’ Olympia Theatre on May 25, 1971. The show features Cahoots tracks alongside Band favorites like “Rag Mama Rag” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”

The main album is offered in a new mix by Robertson and Bob Clearmountain. Many of the changes are not subtle and are undertaken to correct what Robertson saw as shortcomings of the original mix in 1971. In general, the mix has more sparkle and breathing room. “The River Hymn” is transformed, with Hudson’s saloon piano and Helm’s vocal springing from the speakers with vivid life. This remix is not disrespectful to the original material. If anything, the new mix finally does right by the material after 50 years.

Studio outtakes include “Bessie Smith” and the roots-rock and funk interpretation of Marvin Gaye’s “Don’t Do It” that served as a popular concert feature. (