Music critics are often guilty of bandying around hyperbolic epithets about albums – “classic”, “landmark”, “epochal” – you get the picture.
But let’s not understate the case for Music From Big Pink – this was a game-changer for rock ’n’ roll. It’s not strictly true that this astonishing collection came out of nowhere – The Band had already backed Dylan and rockabilly veteran Ronnie Hawkins – but the way they hit the ground running as finished-product songwriters in their own right was totally unexpected.
This is an album that sounds simultaneously familiar and otherworldly – woodsy, organic and shot through with an acute understanding of The Great American Songbook.
Robbie Robertson’s guitar playing serves the songs rather than dominates them, and in Richard Manuel, The Band had one of the most soulful vocalists around. The quintet transform their Basement Tapes Dylan collaborations I Shall Be Released and This Wheel’s On Fire and create their own standard with The Weight; while drummer Levon Helm shines vocally on the funky We Can Talk, and Chest Fever showcases mad-scientist organist Garth Hudson.
The Super Deluxe boxset has a CD version with five outtakes, a Blu-ray 5.1 surround mix, plus a 2LP incarnation on black vinyl and a 7″ of The Weight. A 180g 2LP pink-vinyl version is also available.