Recorded on the quick by Bob Dylan’s former backing musicians in New York and L.A., but spiritually located in an unglamorous Catskills basement, The Band’s 1968 debut is a loose record, casual by design. That’s exactly why stoners, scholars, scruff lords and tambourine freaks keep returning to Music From Big Pink after all these years. It’s one of the most welcoming albums in the history of rock – a shaggy-dog story about love, death and American sin that reels you in from the opening line. Listen to “Tears of Rage” and you’re right there in the dream: Someone’s delivering a darkly significant monologue (“We carried you in our arms/On Independence Day…”) while your hosts offer you a drink and a seat by the fire. How could you not accept, if only to find out what happens next?
This beautifully packaged 50th-anniversary box set offers a brighter, sharper mix than past reissues, so you can really hear the lust in “Chest Fever,” the sorrow in “Long Black Veil” and the half-past-dead blues in “The Weight.” There’s also an insightful essay by Rolling Stone‘s David Fricke, and a new a cappella edit of “I Shall Be Released” that shines a lovely spotlight on Richard Manuel’s falling-angel falsetto. If you love the Band, it’s mostly nothing you haven’t heard a couple thousand times before, but little else is needed. A half-century later, the brotherhood of Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Manuel and Garth Hudson still makes you want to join the party.