Garth Hudson

Chest Fever: A Canadian Tribute to the Band

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Few groups of the 1960s and '70s were more frequently celebrated for sounding distinctly American as the Band, but the twist was that four of the five members of the group were born and raised in Canada, and their evocation of the sound and character of the United States was an outsider's perspective, coming from a nation with a rich heritage of musical talent but much less in the way of a national musical character. One of the key members of the Band was keyboard player Garth Hudson, whose magisterial approach to organs and synthesizers conjured a rich, evocative sound that helped set them apart from their peers, and 13 years after the death of Rick Danko closed out the final incarnation of the group (and less than a year after Levon Helm lost his battle with cancer), Hudson has released Chest Fever: A Canadian Tribute to the Band, in which he's teamed up with a number of celebrated Canadian musicians to interpret Hudson's favorite songs in the Band's catalog. Hudson casts a wide net through the group's repertoire, running the gamut from the Basement Tapes material they recorded with Bob Dylan before they were even called the Band ("Clothes Line Saga," here performed by the Cowboy Junkies) to some numbers from their often overlooked post-Robbie Robertson recordings (best is a frantic cover of "Move to Japan" with the Trews), and most of the Band's best-known songs don't appear here. But Hudson's song selection certainly captures the Band's strengths and perspectives, and there are some marvelous performances here, most notably two numbers with the Sadies. Their version of "The Shape I'm In" is faithful and enthusiastic while still bringing their sonic personality to the proceedings, and they do a bang-up job backing Neil Young on a blazing cover of "This Wheel's on Fire" that's the most exciting track on this set, with truly feral guitar work from Young. Unfortunately, Chest Fever leads off with the album's weakest track, a cover of "Forbidden Fruit" by Danny Brooks & the Rockin' Revelators that sounds like the work of an uninspired bar band, and like most tribute albums, as a whole this is hit and miss, with a few misfires (Suzie McNeil's overwrought take on "Ain't Got No Home" and Hawksley Workman's borderline hair metal assault on "I Loved You Too Much") scattered alongside some genuine triumphs (a lovely acoustic version of "You Ain't Going Nowhere" from Kevin Hearn and an inspired cover of "Acadian Driftwood" by Peter Katz & the Curious that honors one of the overlooked masterpieces in the Band's repertoire). But Hudson's contributions throughout are impressive, reaffirming his place as one of rock's most distinctive instrumentalists, and Chest Fever certainly demonstrates the remarkable depth of the Band's vision, even if a few of the tracks are a pale shadow of what that great group wrought.

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