The Band’s ‘Cahoots’ Gets 50th Anniversary Edition

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The Band (L-R) Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson, Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Robbie Robertson, in 1971 (Photo: Barry Feinstein; used with permission)

The Band’s classic fourth album, Cahoots, is being celebrated for its 50th anniversary with newly remixed, remastered, expanded editions. The collections feature unreleased recordings, including a live concert recorded in Paris in 1971. The release, led by the multi-format Super Deluxe 2-CD/Blu-ray/1LP/7-inch vinyl box set, will also be available on 2-CDs, 180-gram half-speed-mastered black vinyl and limited-edition 180-gram black vinyl packages. They arrive on December 10, 2021, via Capitol/UMe. All the anniversary edition releases were overseen by principal songwriter Robbie Robertson and sport a new stereo mix by Bob Clearmountain from the original multi-track masters. The original Sept. 15, 1971 release was perhaps best known for the tracks “Life is a Carnival” and the Bob Dylan song, “When I Paint My Masterpiece.”

The unreleased recordings are highlighted by Live at the Olympia Theatre, Paris, May 1971, a bootleg partial concert consisting of 11 tracks; plus early and alternate versions of “Endless Highway” and “When I Paint My Masterpiece” along with six other early takes, outtakes, instrumentals, and stripped-down mixes.

Watch the official unboxing video

From the Oct. 22 announcement: When The Band pulled into the unfinished Bearsville Sounds Studios in Bearsville, New York in early 1971 to record Cahoots, their fourth studio album in as many years, they were still basking in the success of and acclaim for their first three history-making records. The Band’s landmark debut album, 1968’s Music From Big Pink, drew inspiration from the American roots music melting pot of country, blues, R&B, gospel, soul, rockabilly, the honking tenor sax tradition, hymns, funeral dirges, brass band music, folk and good ol’ rock ’n’ roll to foment a timeless new style that forever changed the course of popular music. When they released their seminal eponymous second album, The Band, the following year, not much more was known about the reclusive group. Even so, 1970’s Stage Fright, recorded over 12 days on the stage of the Woodstock Playhouse in upstate New York, cemented the fulfilled promise of those initial back-to-back albums that solidified The Band as one of the most exciting and revolutionary groups of the late 1960s, who were able to carry their avowed excellence directly into the 1970s without interruption.

Related: Our Album Rewind of The Band’s “rustic masterpiece”

Indeed, The Band, made up of four Canadians and one American, was still purposefully shrouded in mystery at the turn of the decade, allowing for listeners and the music press to let their imaginations run afield about who these men were and what this music was that sounded unlike anything else happening as the psychedelic ‘60s officially wound down. Dressed like 19th century fire-and-brimstone preachers and singing rustic, sepia-toned songs about America and the deep south, The Band – Garth Hudson (keyboards, accordion, horns), Levon Helm (drums, vocals, mandolin, guitar), Richard Manuel (keyboards, vocals, drums), Rick Danko (bass, vocals) and Robbie Robertson (guitar, piano, vocals) – was still somewhat enigmatic as the ‘70s began to unfold and unravel around them, but there’s no denying how The Band was able to forge such an ineradicable impact on the music scene at large heretofore unmatched by any group that came before them, or since.

Exclusively for this box set, Clearmountain has also created new Dolby Atmos and 5.1 surround-sound mixes of both the album and four bonus tracks, presented in high resolution on Blu-ray, alongside the new stereo mix. Every new audio mix has been mastered by Adam Ayan at Gateway Mastering. The lift-top box set also includes an exclusive reproduction of the Japanese pressing of The Band’s 1971 7-inch vinyl single for “Life is a Carnival” b/w “The Moon Struck One” in their new stereo mixes; a 20-page booklet with new notes by Robbie Robertson and extensive insider liner notes by Rob Bowman; three classic photo lithographs, one each by Barry Feinstein, Richard Avedon (his infamous eyes-closed group portrait from the back cover) and noted New York artist/illustrator Gilbert Stone (who painted the still stunning stretched-out portrait of The Band on the album’s front cover); plus a wealth of additional material and other historical data from the original recordings sessions. The limited-edition 180-gram black vinyl release that features a tip-on jacket also contains a photo lithograph by Barrie Wentzell that’s unique to the package.

As with the acclaimed 50th anniversary collections for the winning trio of Music From Big Pink, the self-titled record and Stage Fright, Clearmountain and Robertson’s approach to remixing Cahoots was undertaken with the utmost care and respect for the music and what The Band represents. That said, Robertson’s instructions for how his right-hand mixing partner should handle the Cahoots mixes possessed one key difference: Robertson wanted Clearmountain to transform them based on what he felt was lacking from the original mixes. As Clearmountain shares in the liners, “Robbie told me, ‘Just think of the original mixes as rough mixes. Pretty much don’t pay attention to the mixes themselves.’” This directive gave Clearmountain the leeway to unclutter some of the album’s original arrangements, all with Robertson’s blessing: “In the beginning of these sessions, we didn’t know if we were making another Basement Tapes where nobody would hear the music or if we were actually making a real record,” Robertson admits. Though Robertson felt the first three Band records wound up sounding better due to a combination of how today’s technology actually enhances the limitations of yesterday’s technology, he doubled down with his instructions to Clearmountain for Cahoots: “I told Bob, ‘There are no rules. So, every mix we do, I want to start from scratch. I don’t even want to listen to the original. I want to listen to the way we hear it now and be fearless and experimental with it.”

Listen to the stripped-down mix of “Thinkin’ Out Loud”

In his Atmos mix of Cahoots, Clearmountain puts the listener dead-center and smack dab in the middle of the band in the most “you-are-there” fashion imaginable. Concludes Robertson, “This is what I really meant. This is the honesty of this now. This is a trip. This is something special.”

In May and June of 1971, The Band set off to tour Europe, where they hadn’t played since their tumultuous tour with Bob Dylan in 1966, during which they were booed every night as folk rock purists felt betrayed by Dylan’s going electric as backed by The Hawks, who would soon enough become The Band. Not having played the continent in five years, the guys were justifiably wary and didn’t really know what to expect in Europe – but rather than garnering boos and catcalls, they received a rapturous response at their first concert in Hamburg, Germany and would continue performing for one enthusiastic crowd after another. Playing at the Olympia Theatre in Paris on May 25, 1971 was one such gig especially near and dear to The Band’s collective heart. “We hadn’t been back to this place since playing there with Bob Dylan, when the Paris show was a complete disaster,” Robertson recalls. “We wanted so much to do a special performance for the French. We wanted a certain kind of feeling in the Olympia. When we played the show, I felt like we did it.”

The set list that night reflected each of The Band’s ten two-set European concerts, and it was recorded by a French radio station and filmed by French media. Sadly, only the second half of that show survives, but it’s full of a slew of Band classics, such as “The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show,” “We Can Talk,” the Stevie Wonder-penned Four Tops hit “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” “Across the Great Divide,” “The Unfaithful Servant,” “Don’t Do It,” the Garth Hudson showcase “The Genetic Method” that leads into “Chest Fever,” “Rag Mama Rag” and a rousing cover of the Little Richard barnburner, “Slippin’ And Slidin’.” This portion of the Paris show is presented on CD2 as a “bootleg partial concert,” but even so, each of these 11 electrifying live tracks serve as even more evidence of just how good The Band sounded onstage at this point in their career.

Originally released on September 15, 1971, Cahoots contains a number of The Band’s best-loved and most enduring songs, including “Life Is A Carnival” and “When I Paint My Masterpiece.” As recounted in the liner notes, longtime Band road manager Jonathan Taplin notes how “Carnival” was born in part out of Robertson’s infatuation with some of the more peculiar characters on display in Marcel Carné’s 1945 film Les Enfants du Paradise, not to mention his having worked on the midway at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto in his youth. In addition to The Band’s own impeccable style of groove-making, the song’s Mardi Gras-esque atmospherics are also due to legendary New Orleans R&B producer Allen Toussaint having been deployed to compose a most excellent, and decidedly funky, horn arrangement to buttress the track.

Meanwhile, “When I Paint My Masterpiece” ensued from a visit by lifelong Band compadre Bob Dylan, an instant classic that’s bolstered by Levon Helm’s mandolin and Garth Hudson’s accordion, both of which lent the track a European feel that best matched Dylan’s lyrical axis.

Cahoots features another guest of note who also happened to be a Woodstock resident at the time: namely, Van Morrison, who adds his indelible vocal stamp to “4% Pantomime.” One afternoon, Morrison stopped by Robertson’s writing studio, heard Robertson noodling on some chord changes and a melody on piano, and the next thing anyone knew, Morrison was singing and creating lyrics on the spot while looking right at Richard Manuel. Morrison (whom Robertson dubbed the “Belfast Cowboy”) was so galvanized by the tune that he suggested they all head to the studio to cut it that same night. A few hours and a few false starts later, “4% Pantomime” was officially on tape. In the finished version, Morrison and Richard Manuel trade impassioned face-to-face vocals captured only a few feet apart (with Manuel also turning in double duty on piano), Levon Helm supplying the unmistakable backbeat, and Garth Hudson adding all the right organ fills.

Cahoots peaked at #21 on Billboard, marking The Band’s fourth consecutive Top 30 album appearance.

See the complete tracklisting below the links.

Cahoots 50th Anniversary Edition Tracklisting

CD1
1. Life Is A Carnival
2. When I Paint My Masterpiece
3. Last Of The Blacksmiths
4. Where Do We Go From Here?
5. 4% Pantomime
6. Shoot Out In Chinatown
7. The Moon Struck One
8. Thinkin’ Out Loud
9. Smoke Signal
10. Volcano
11. The River Hymn

Bonus Tracks
12. Endless Highway (Early Studio Take, 2021 Mix)
13. When I Paint My Masterpiece (Alternate Take, 2021 Mix)
14. 4% Pantomime (Takes 1 & 2)
15. Don’t Do It (Outtake – Studio Version, 2021 Mix)
16. Bessie Smith (Outtake)

CD2
Live at The Olympia Theatre, Paris, May 1971 (Bootleg, Partial Concert)*

1. The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show
2. We Can Talk
3. Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever
4. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
5. Across The Great Divide
6. The Unfaithful Servant
7. Don’t Do It
8. The Genetic Method
9. Chest Fever
10. Rag Mama Rag
11. Slippin’ And Slidin’

Bonus Tracks
12. Life Is A Carnival (Instrumental)*
13. Volcano (Instrumental)*
14. Thinkin’ Out Loud (Stripped Down Mix)*

Blu-ray
Dolby Atmos, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, and Stereo
High Resolution Audio: 96 kHz/24 bit

1. Life Is A Carnival
2. When I Paint My Masterpiece
3. Last Of The Blacksmiths
4. Where Do We Go From Here?
5. 4% Pantomime
6. Shoot Out In Chinatown
7. The Moon Struck One
8. Thinkin’ Out Loud
9. Smoke Signal
10. Volcano
11. The River Hymn

Bonus Tracks
12. Endless Highway (Early Studio Take, 2021 Mix)
13. When I Paint My Masterpiece (Alternate Take, 2021 Mix)
14. 4% Pantomime (Takes 1 & 2)
15. Don’t Do It (Outtake – Studio Version, 2021 Mix)

1LP (33 1/3 RPM)
180g black vinyl (included in the box set and available individually); ltd. edition 180g black vinyl with tip-on jacket (available individually)

Original 1971 7” Capitol Single, Japanese Pressing (45 RPM)
A. Life Is A Carnival
B. The Moon Struck One

* Previously unreleased

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  1. King
    #1 King 23 October, 2021, 16:55

    “Classic?” Really.

    This album was considered a dog when it was released, the drop off from Stage Fright (itself a drop off from “the Brown Album”) quite significant. Outside of Carnival, 4%, and Masterpiece are great but the rest . . . curiously tuneless . . . the rot had set in thanks to good old drugs and alcohol and probably a little ego as well. Over the years I’d revisit this album amid the hope some of the other tracks would finally reveal themselves to me. None of them did. This is just more repackaging. Robbie never stops with this stuff. Never.

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  2. Hank
    #2 Hank 23 November, 2021, 22:52

    Everything is a classic when it hits 50. Certainly not their best work by far. Where do we go from here great as well. I liked listening to the Moon Dog Matinee album but in reality with the exception of live albums Cahoots is the last relevant album by the Band.

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