It’s fitting that The Band’s last album would turn out to be 1998’s Jubilation, since it seemed to be a conscious attempt to go back, lyrically at least, to where it all began for them. Some of the horn-fueled business that marred High On The Hog creeps in at times, but the songwriting, even though it comes from a variety of sources, keeps a consistent tone and there are a couple of real beauties along the way. Here is a song-by-song review.
11. “Spirit Of The Dance”- Way overdone with the horns and mystic lyrics and pounding drums.
10. “White Cadillac (Ode To Ronnie Hawkins)”- Newer members of The Band step up here, but it only makes you realize how integral those three original vocalists were to the group’s success. The song itself, a rollicking tribute to The Band’s mentor Hawkins, is solid with lyrics that wax nostalgic about the old days on Yonge Street, but Randy Ciarlante’s lead vocal never quite gets it airborne.
9. “Kentucky Downpour”- The horns are excessive. Too bad, because this had the potential to be a call-back to “Look Out Cleveland,” wherein some ominous weather presages man-made calamities.
8. “Last Train To Memphis”- This swinger comes courtesy of Bobby Charles, who penned some early R&B classics like “Walkin’ To New Orleans.” Elvis Presley is prominent here as a symbol, his home a destination representing music’s indestructible power even when those who play it are gone. Eric Clapton punches in a few licks for a little icing on the cake.
7. “You See Me”- Dipping back into the Allen Toussaint songwriting well does The Band a lot of good here. Levon Helm wasn’t in the strongest voice on this album but songs like this were never any sweat for him. Garth Hudson’s saxophone gets way down in the dumps with the hapless protagonist.
6. “Don’t Wait”- There are echoes of classics like “When You Awake” and “Rockin’ Chair” in this nice little track, what with an elder on his last legs giving advice to a youngster about to learn the truths of the world the hard way, which is really the only way. This song maybe labors a bit to get those same points across which is why it isn’t ranked higher here, but it’s a nice effort just the same.
5. “High Cotton”- Sometimes life is all ladybugs, Coca-Cola, and mandolins, no matter the blues that bedevil everybody else. Danko, who co-wrote the track with Tom Pacheco, sounds like a guy who knows the bliss is temporary but that it’s better than nothing. Hudson’s sax solo sounds like it was piped in from another song yet it works anyway.
4. “Bound By Love”- John Hiatt was a good choice to make a guest spot, considering that he has the kind of distinctive voice that The Band’s singers all possessed. His duet with Danko is simple and effective, a nice treatise on devotion seconded by typically spot-on accompaniment from the players.
3. “French Girls”- Garth’s little postscript is a mix of power-ballad synth chords and end-of-the-evening saxophones. That doesn’t sound like it would be lovely, moving stuff, but it is.
2. “If I Should Fail”- I think a lot of people would peg Rick Danko as the ultimate support guy in The Band, underpinning things on bass, coming in with harmonies at just the right time, etc. But Jubilation‘s best moments come when he takes the spotlight, such as on this ballad of a doomed gunfighter facing his end with equal parts resignation and courage. The redemptive love of a good woman, the trail coming to an end in gunfire and defeat: It’s nothing that hasn’t been written or portrayed before. But the innate tenderness that Danko brings pushes it past cliche into truly powerful territory.
1. “Book Faded Brown”- Much credit goes to Paul Jost, who wrote such a lovely song that dovetails so nicely with themes that The Band has always embodied: Family, tradition, the wobble between sweet and sad that life inevitably dances. Danko wisely understates everything, for these things are as they once were and always will be, so there’s no need to shout about it. Hudson captures it all anyway as his accordion trips through the bucolic scene with benevolence and wisdom. Heck, this one is so fine you don’t even notice that Levon sits it out. Could have fit in seamlessly on either Big Pink or The Brown Album; is there any higher praise than that?
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