In pre-release publicity, Robbie Robertson declared this set to be “the definitive musical history” of The Band. With 111 cuts (37 previously unreleased) and a 108-page hardbound book, plus a DVD, A Musical History could be considered the most comprehensive survey yet of The Band’s career.
But if one were enough of a fanatic to shell out around $80 for this box set, then logic would have it that the same enthusiast would have certainly anted up five years ago for the reissues of The Band’s original albums – not to mention the 1994 three-disc Across The Great Divide, or 1989′s two-disc To Kingdom Come: The Definitive Collection. A Musical History yields some new gems from the vault, but those tend to frustrate as often as they delight, by hinting at how easily this set could have deviated more substantially from previous repackaging.
The group’s 1968 eleven-track debut, Music From Big Pink, is represented here with, by my count, ten songs that appeared in roughly the same form on the 2000 Big Pink reissue. Surely they could have provided better value (demos, alternates, live versions) to the serious collector. A live version of “Slippin & Slidin’” (recorded on 1970′s Festival Express tour of Canada) and a spirited trio of tunes recorded at a 1971 Royal Albert Hall show in London are welcome additions.
But instead of all the repetition from previous collections, why not clean up and include some of the important live recordings (Hollywood Bowl ’71, Roosevelt Stadium ’73) that are circulating among fans? A smattering of previously released and new recordings from the Dylan Basement Tapes sessions are a good start, but the bootleg set A Tree With Roots managed to round up four full discs of material. This would have been a fine place for more of that music to make its legit debut.
The DVD is even more egregious. We get a complete 1970 rehearsal of “King Harvest Has Surely Come”, but why not include their stab at “Up On Cripple Creek”, which was filmed at the same session? In October 1976, they appeared on “Saturday Night Live”, performing four songs. Perversely, only three are presented on the DVD, a decision that strains even the most generous interpretation of “definitive.”
Maybe we should just be grateful for what is here and forget about could have been included. Sometimes it’s better to be an ingrate than a sucker.