The Band – Rock Of Ages (2009)

More The Band

More Rock Of Ages

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

White Hot Stampers for side two — WOW! Check out the track listing for that side: Stage Fright / The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down / Across the Great Divide / This Wheel’s on Fire / Rag Mama Rag

Pretty hard to beat that batch of Band songs; practically every one is a classic. And considering how difficult it is to get a good sounding copy of the albums those songs are taken from, this double album is a great way to go if you love The Band. The performances are uniformly excellent, and the live horn section adds a lot to the fun and energy of the music.

(The same can be said for Little Feat’s live album, Waiting for Columbus. We’ve been trying to find Hot Stampers on that one for years with little luck. Guess we’ll just have to keep trying.)

It should go without saying that this is wonderful music that belongs in any popular music collection. My favorite song here is “I Don’t Want To Hang Up My Rock And Roll Shoes”. It’s The Band at their best — LIVE.

One of my best friends had a chance to see the band — The Band — back in the day, before they had released their second album and nobody knew who the hell they were. He was astonished when, after about every second or third song, they would all get up and switch places and instruments, a fact alluded to in the Wikipedia entry for the group. Multi-instrumentalists of the highest order barely begin to convey how talented these guys really were.

What We Thought We Knew

Years ago we put up a copy with with what we implied were Hot Stampers (before we were using the term regularly) on at least one side:

Side One sounds tonally right on the money! This is as good as it gets… Robert Ludwig mastered all of the originals of these albums, but some of them have bad vinyl and don’t sound correct.

I only played side one of the album, so I can’t speak for the other sides, but what I heard was sound about as good as I think this album can have.

There are some truths along with some half-truths in the above comments, and let’s just say we would be quite a bit more careful in our language were we writing about that copy today. One side is no indication whatsoever as to the quality of the other three, and without the kind of cleaning technologies we have avaiable to us today I wouldn’t want to make a “definitive” sonic assessment for any of them. We you play uncleaned or poorly cleaned records you’re hearing a lot of garbage that has nothing to do with the sound of the actual vinyl. (Note there is no such thing as a definitive sonic assessment, from us or anybody else.)

Common Problems, Yada Yada Yada

The most obvious problems with the sound of this album are ones common to many if not most rock records of the era: lack of presence, too much compression, smear (easily heard on the brass), lack of weight from the lower mids on down — we hear lots of Classic Rock records with this litany of shortcomings. But it’s not the fault of the master tape, it’s probably not even the fault of the mastering engineer most of the time. It’s just plain bad pressing quality. The sound simply doesn’t get stamped onto the vinyl right and the result is one or more of the problems above. And if you don’t know how to clean your records properly, forget it, you have virtually no chance of hearing good sound on ROA.

Side One

A Double Plus sound, pretty much as good as it gets. Super TRANSPARENT — just listen to the “room” around the vocals. On most copies there simply is no ambience around the vocals at all. This is the kind of side that shows you what’s on the tape. it sets a standard for the rest of the album in terms of midrange transparency and spatial resolution that is hard to beat.

Side Two

EVEN BETTER — A Triple Plus sound, the best we heard in our shootout! It rocks; listen to how deep and powerful the bass is on this side. I don’t remember that any other copy had bass on any side like this.

Side Three

A Plus sound, good but far from the best, not all the top and a bit lacking in weight below.

Side Four

All the top but lacking in energy and presence compared to the very best, we gave this one an A Plus, not murky and muddy and dull but not the side four of our dreams. Playing either of the first two sides will clue you in as to what is missing on these later two sides.

Total

Seven pluses total, the best we have to offer this round and world’s better than most pressings you can find, assuming you can find a clean original Robert Ludwig pressing of the album. Not all that many have survived. It took us years to find enough to do this shootout and it will probably be years before we can do another.

AMG Review

Recorded on New Year’s Eve 1971/1972, this was the Band’s last gig for a year and a half. Allen Toussaint was brought in again to write horn arrangements for many of their classics. The results were inspired. Highlights are many, but of particular note are a cover of Marvin Gaye’s Baby Don’t Do It and a live recording of a track that had earlier been relegated to B-side status only, Get Up Jake.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Don’t Do It 
King Harvest (Has Surely Come) 
Caledonia Mission 
Get up Jake 
The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show

Side Two

Stage Fright 
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down 
Across the Great Divide 
This Wheel’s on Fire 
Rag Mama Rag

Side Three

The Weight 
The Shape I’m In 
Unfaithful Servant 
Life Is a Carnival

Side Four

The Genetic Method 
Chest Fever 
(I Don’t Want to) Hang up My Rock & Roll Shoes