The Band’s ‘Cahoots’ Deluxe Edition: Review

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Though many rock groups with successful first records experience a sophomore slump, The Band came roaring back from their outstanding Music from Big Pink debut in 1968 with a superb eponymous second album in 1969. Their third release, 1970’s Stage Fright, was pretty darn good, too.

Their fortunes finally took a turn with album number four, though the extent of the turn is subject to debate. It’s hard to argue that 1971’s Cahoots is not a step down from its predecessors, but those records set a high standard. And it’s probably that standard that caused many critics to pounce on the LP.

Every member of the group continues to perform beautifully on Cahoots, and it certainly has its moments, including the funky “Life Is a Carnival”; “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” a Bob Dylan composition that features atmospheric organ by Garth Hudson and makes its first appearance here; and “4% Pantomime,” a Robbie Robertson/Van Morrison co-write that finds the latter guesting to share lead vocals. But the rest of the material falls short by varying degrees: numbers like “Smoke Signal” and “Shoot Out in Chinatown” are enjoyable, albeit insubstantial, while songs such as “The Moon Struck One” and “Volcano” seem like mere filler, though Hudson’s potent sax work partly redeems the latter.

Listen to the Band perform “The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show” from the previously unreleased Paris concert

A new 50th anniversary edition moves Cahoots into the “Buy” column, however. For one thing, it includes a CD with a new Bob Clearmountain mix that makes everything sound a bit better and a surround-sound audio Blu-ray that makes it all sound much better. Listening to these, you may conclude that the strength of the performances outweighs the relative weakness of some of the material.

The Band (l. to r.): Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson, Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Robbie Robertson. (Photo by Barry Feinstein, used with permission)

Moreover, the anniversary edition adds other goodies, among them a seven-inch vinyl single; a 180-gram vinyl LP; and eight studio bonus tracks, including alternate takes of “When I Paint My Masterpiece” and “4% Pantomime” and a previously unreleased instrumental version of “Life Is a Carnival.” Other carrots include three frameable photo lithographs and a 20-page booklet with liner notes by Robertson and York University professor and musicologist Rob Bowman, who has long been associated with the group.

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

Most significantly, the set offers 50 minutes of previously unreleased material from a contemporaneous concert at the Olympia Theatre in Paris that hits many of the high points from the Band’s first three albums: “The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” “Across the Great Divide,” “Rag Mama Rag,” “The Unfaithful Servant,” “Chest Fever” and five more numbers.

Related: Our Album Rewind of the Band’s live Rock of Ages LP

The Band may have been in a bit of a composing slump by the time of this May 1971 concert; but as these performances demonstrate, they could certainly still serve up entertaining versions of their classics onstage.

Watch the official unboxing video

Jeff Burger

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