The Band – Islands (1977)

FrontCover1Islands is the seventh studio album by the Canadian-American rock group the Band. Released in 1977 to mixed reviews, it is the final studio album from the group’s original lineup.

Primarily composed of previously unreleased songs from the Band’s career (including their 1976 cover of “Georgia on My Mind”, which was recorded to aid Jimmy Carter in his presidential bid), Islands was released to fulfill the group’s contract with Capitol Records, so that the soundtrack to their film The Last Waltz could be released on Warner Bros. Records. In the CD liner notes, Robbie Robertson compares the album to the Who’s Odds & Sods. (wikipedia)

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Ever since I first heard the magnificent ‘Acadian Driftwood’ and marvelled in particular at Garth Hudson’s tasteful use of synthesiser, it has always been a mystery to me why The Band’s last album, Northern Lights, Southern Cross, wasn’t universally hailed as an all-time classic.

I reckon it vies pretty closely with their second one as being the best Band album of them all, and if you missed it or were dissuaded from listening to it by some bird brained ‘critic’, then you are well and truly advised to make amends.

Meanwhile, the boys from Woodstock, who you may remember ceased operations earlier in the year – and held a million dollar bash in San Francisco to convince everybody of the fact – have gone and made another album! A good job too, because while almost every other ‘established’ band in America has become hopelessly erratic, or splintered off into and thousand and one nebulous side-trips, The Band remain constant, as reassuring an outfit as there’s ever been in rock music.

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I can’t for one minute believe that there are any of you out there who are not 100% convinced of the outstanding contribution The Band have made to contemporary American music, so I will not waste my limited supply of superlatives on preaching to the converted. I will employ then instead to transmit the pleasure I’ve gained from repeatedly listening to this new album.

At first I must admit that I was disappointed with it, and Richard Williams’ unfavourable review in MM seemed less of a hatchet job than it does now. However, I continued to play it day and night, and sure enough, its intricacies, subtle melodies and lyrical strength began to permeate my bleary senses.

It’s true it hasn’t got an epic on the scale of ‘Acadian Driftwood’, or a ballad with the power and beauty of ‘It Makes No Difference’ (we can really only expect to hear a handful of songs like that every year), but Islands does have many oustanding moments. Robbie Robertson, as usual, dominates the songwriting credits, and of the eight cuts which he wrote or co-wrote, ‘Right As Rain’ (also the new single), ‘Let The Night Fall’, a superb song called ‘Christmas Must Be Tonight’, and the somewhat ethereal instrumental title track are all well up to accepted Band standards, while the other songs, substantial thought they are, do not (for my ears) distinguish themselves individually yet.

Two standards, ‘Georgia On My Mind’ and ‘Ain’t That A Lot Of Love’, complete the album, and are treated with the same degree of sensitivity and enthusiastic reappraisal that made their ‘oldies’ album, Moondog Matinee, such a success.

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The quality of the arrangements, musicianship and production are, naturally, faultless; and if there is much less evidence of Robbie Robertson’s precise and imaginative playing than I would have liked, the splendidly authoritative work of Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel, in particular, compensate to some extent.

Although (God help me) I can’t for the life of me find ANY of my Band albums except the last one, I’ve never yet heard a record of theirs that I didn’t like a great deal, and the same goes for this one. I’ve already spent more time listening to it than all but three or four other albums released this year, and its several memorable passages stand up to the most exacting comparisons.

Even if they carry out their intention of staying off the road, I sincerely hope they keep making records for a very long time, especially if they are as good as this. (by Andy Childs. from ZigZag magazine, May 1977.)

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Personnel:
Rick Danko (bass, vocals)
Levon Helm (drums, vocals)
Garth Hudson (keyboards, piccolo, saxophone)
Richard Manuel (keyboards, vocals)
Robbie Robertson (guitars, vocal on 09.)
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Jim Gordon (flute on 06.)
Tom Malone (trombone on 06.)
Larry Packer (violin on 06.)
John Simon (saxophone on 06.)

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Tracklist:
01. Right As Rain (Robertson) 3.52
02. Street Walker (Robertson/Danko) 3.16
03. Let The Night Fall (Robertson) 3.11
04. Ain’t That A Lot Of Love (Banks/Parker) 3.08
05. Christmas Must Be Tonight (Robertson) 3.37
06. Islands (Robertson/Hudson/Danko) 3.54
07. The Saga Of Pepote Rouge /Robertson) 4.15
08. Georgia On My Mind (Carmichael/Gorrell) 3.09
09. Knockin’ Lost John (Robertson) 3.52
10. Livin’ In A Dream (Robertson) 2.51

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More from The Band:
More

Rick Danko
(December 29, 1943 – December 10, 1999)

Levon Helm
(May 26, 1940 – April 19, 2012)

Richard Manuel
(April 3, 1943 – March 4, 1986)

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