The Band

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Cahoots Review

by Mark Deming

The Band weren't planning on making an album when they started work on their fourth LP, 1971's Cahoots. Their manager, Albert Grossman, was building a recording studio in Woodstock, New York, where the members of the Band lived, and he invited them over to try the place out as finishing touches were being put on the studio. Their experiments eventually coalesced into Cahoots, and the album's genesis is borne out in a final product that's often mired in a sense of ennui and a lack of direction. Titles like "Where Do We Go from Here" and "Thinking Out Loud" practically howl over the decline in the group's songwriting process -- while the opener, "Life Is a Carnival," is a corker, "Last of the Blacksmiths" could thematically pass for a parody of the compelling Americana of Music from Big Pink and The Band, "4% Pantomime" is a meditation on getting drunk that's unmemorable beyond a guest vocal from Van Morrison, and the most joyous song here, "When I Paint My Masterpiece," was gifted to them by Bob Dylan. Most of the album was recorded without all five members in the studio at once, and while the performances are both expert and soulful -- these musicians were essentially incapable of playing any other way -- the cohesion of their best work seems just out of reach on Cahoots, without the taut fire of which they were capable. (The drug and alcohol problems that would haunt the Band were beginning to make their presence known as well.) And yet, the Band simply didn't know how to make a bad album, and there are moments on Cahoots that connect strongly enough to make that clear, with the LP rallying on its final three cuts, the emphatic "Smoke Signals" and "Volcano" and the sweetly elegiac "The River Hymn." Prior to Cahoots, it seemed the Band could do no wrong in the studio, and though there are many good things here, it pales in comparison to what they offered just a few years earlier.

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