Capitol / UMG [Release date 12.2.21]
Often regarded as a poor relation to The Band’s peerless first two albums, this 2CD anniversary edition of “Stage Fright” (overseen by Robbie Robertson) invites fresh appraisal with a new mix and revised running order.
Recorded over a period of 12 days in the Woodstock Playhouse, it’s always been a sonically impressive album due to the natural sound of that wooden, barrel-shaped building. Originally mixed by Glyn Johns and Todd Rundgren without any band member involvement, Bob Clearmountain has given it a sonic lift by newly mixing the tapes for this edition.
The song order that was originally intended has also been restored, resulting in the stronger material being sequenced towards the start of the album. This works effectively, and ‘Sleeping’ actually sounds like the natural album closer.
Several numbers here would go on to become regulars in the live set, notably ‘The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show’, ‘The Shape I’m In’ and ‘Stage Fright’. Indeed, all three are present on CD2 which contains 20 (largely unreleased) songs recorded live on 4-track tape at The Band’s Royal Albert Hall concert in June 1971. One of the greatest concerts that they ever played, as well as promoting the “Stage Fright” material it also contains classic tracks such as ‘The Weight’, ‘King Harvest (Has Surely Come)’, ‘I Shall Be Released’, ‘Up On Cripple Creek’, ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’, ‘Across The Great Divide’ and ‘Rag Mama Rag’ – a truly staggering performance full of incredible musicianship.
As well as the aforementioned tracks, other highlights on the album itself include ‘Time To Kill’, ‘Daniel And The Sacred Harp’ and ‘The Rumor’. The latter boasts a memorable vocal exchange between Rick Danko, Levon Helm and Richard Manuel.
In addition to “Stage Fright’, the first CD also contains a couple of alternate mixes along with 7 songs captured on a portable cassette player in a hotel room in Calgary in 1970. These feature Robertson on guitar and vocals, Danko harmonizing and playing rhythm, and Manuel joining in on harmonica and vocals. Rough outtakes they may be, but they still make for a magical listen.
The accompanying booklet features detailed notes, including a 1970 Robert Hilburn piece originally published in the Los Angeles Times, as well as some outstanding photos.
This sterling release is a perfect way to either rediscover “Stage Fright” or enjoy it for the first time. A very underrated album, and one that certainly merits a 50th anniversary celebration. ****
Review by Jim Henderson
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