THE BAND: JERICHO (1993)
1) Remedy; 2) Blind Willie McTell; 3) The Caves Of Jericho; 4) Atlantic City; 5) Too Soon Gone; 6) Country Boy; 7) Move To Japan; 8) Amazon (River Of Dreams); 9) Stuff You Gotta Watch; 10) Same Thing; 11) Shine A Light; 12) Blues Stay Away From Me.
Ironically, even though Robbie initially planned for The Band to simply quit touring and become a studio outfit (possibly hoping to recreate the conditions for the Sgt. Pepper experiment), fate had it that «The Band» — without Robbie — came back together in 1983 exclusively as a touring outfit, spending an entire decade as an oldies act, during which they had to outlive the tragic suicide of Richard Manuel, unable to cope with his alcoholism and other problems.
Maybe if tragedy did not strike so soon, we might have had ourselves a «Band» album from the 1980s — were such a thing able to prevent Manuel from his rash decision, I might even agree to endure it — but as it is, it is actually very, very good that «The Band» waited until the early 1990s, when the electronic boom had passed and live instruments came into fashion once again, to make their first move. Because, even though Jericho adds nothing whatsoever to their reputation, it also does not make any serious detractions.
«The Band», reconvening to further the legend for the appropriately biblically titled Jericho, in 1993 retained but three old war horses — Danko, Helm, and Hudson — with new members Jim Weider and Richard Bell respectively taking the places of Robertson (guitars) and Manuel (keyboards), and Randy Ciarlante adding extra percussion; furthermore, there are about a dozen guest musicians emerging here and there on saxes, fiddles, mandolins, steel guitars, you name it — a little surprising, actually, because in the past, it was the band members themselves who would eagerly supply all that instrumental variety. This is already suspicious, but then there is the songwriting: of the twelve tracks, only two involve real Band members (Helm and Danko) as co-writers, with the rest either being covers of old / contemporary material, or special commissions from some of the guests (the complete list of songwriters, both living and dead, amounts here to a whoppin' 23 names altogether).
Nothing great could come out of such a huge melting pot, and nothing did come out. Of course, the vocals, the laid-back rootsiness, and the complexity of the instrumental layers reveal Jericho as a proper Band album — in form and style, at the very least. But the album has no real point to make. It is neither a proper continuation of «Encyclopaedia Americana», nor a nostalgic look back at how they left the Encyclopaedia without completion, nor even an attempt to create something — anything — and prove to the world that «The Band» still has a finer grip on reality than the average random band playing for pennies on your local street corner. What Jericho really is is merely a friendly get-together. Wanna play something? Yup, why not. Okay then, let's play. Got nothing better to do anyway. Beats playing poker till dawn.
So they play — Bob Dylan's ʽBlind Willie McTellʼ, and Bruce Springsteen's ʽAtlantic Cityʼ, and some old stuff from Willie Dixon, and a Jules Shear song because Jules Shear happened to be passing by, and an Artie Traum song because Artie is such a nice guy and cares about the environment and stuff, and a bit of this and a bit of that, and it all sounds nice on the surface, but bland, shallow, and boring once you try to take a dive.
The slow tempos of the songs bring the average running time of each number to about five minutes, so that Jericho drags on and on and on — above all else, it is poorly sequenced, with the most generic, comatose song of all, the formulaic 12-bar ʽBlues Stay Away From Meʼ occupying the final six minutes like an extra ten pounds of excess body fat. Only twice in all do they engage in an attempt to speed up the tempos, and only once does it sound even remotely fun and funny, on the sarcastic ʽMove To Japanʼ, where, to the merry sounds of Hudson's trusty accordion, Levon sings about the advantages of relocating one's life to Tokyo since we are all so used to Japanese stuff in our life already (a point that had already been well stated by John Entwistle in his ʽMade In Japanʼ twenty years earlier, actually). The song itself is little more than an average piece of fast honky tonk boogie, though.
The whole album has this laid back, on-the-porch atmosphere — lazy, inoffensive, and absolutely devoid of serious interest. Even Hudson, who used to be so involved in finding non-trivial solutions for arranging The Band's early classics, has nothing in the way of fresh ideas. ʽAtlantic Cityʼ is a lukewarm, energy-free take on Bruce's classic, which the romantic mandolin part is unable to compensate for in any way. Artie Traum's ʽAmazonʼ reflects the guy's New Ageisms, with an «atmospheric» keyboard arrangement by Garth who, alas, is no Enya when it comes to riding that train. The old blues covers (ʽStuff You Gotta Watchʼ, ʽSame Thingʼ) kick about as much ass as a skeleton — for comparison, check out any live version of ʽSame Thingʼ played live around the same time by the Allmans — but if you are not really in the mood for ass-kicking, they might go down relatively easy with a cold beer after a hard day's work.
As a «memento», Jericho also hauls out Manuel's last archival recording with the band — a dusty cover of the hit country single ʽCountry Boyʼ; having been cut in 1985, it is the lone example of what an «Eighties Band» could have sounded like, and apart from Manuel's vocals (which are always lovable and, so it seems, were relatively unharmed by the man's predilection for Grand Marnier), I don't think there is anything about it that strikes me as subtle or tasteful.
Of course, it would be all too easy to euthanize the lame dog by saying «See, there's your Band without Robbie Robertson!» — problem is, the best Robbie Robertson could have done in 1993, were he on talking and working terms with the rest of them, would be to saddle the boys with a few long pompous ballads about the heavy plight of the Native American, and, more likely than not, it would have all sounded equally plodding and tedious, because nowhere on here is there anything even remotely reminiscent of a spark. I have no idea why they made this record — money, boredom, drunken bet, whatever — but this particular Jericho is clearly past the point of the walls tumbling down. Recommended for major fans and enthusiasts only; thumbs down for everybody else on the planet.
Check "Jericho" (MP3) on Amazon