The Band has traveled a long and winding road to get to 'Jericho'

April 01, 1994|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

As Levon Helm readily admits, it's been quite a long road to "Jericho" for the Band.

Almost two decades after the group bade farewell with "The Last Waltz," it has finally managed to release "Jericho." It's the first new album in 17 years and Helm ascribes some of that to the fact that he and his band mates went through "years of starting and stopping" before finally getting to where they are today. But, he adds, what ultimately made a new Band album possible was "a record budget that didn't go south on us."

Of course, this is not the same Band as before. Helm, bassist Rick Danko and multi-instrumentalist Garth Hudson are still aboard, but there are also three new members: guitarist Jim Weider, drummer Rick Ciarlante and pianist Richard Bell.

Absent are Richard Manuel, who committed suicide in 1986, and Robbie Robertson, who pointedly prefers to pursue a solo career. Because Robertson wrote much of the group's best-known material, some fans began to think that the band wouldn't be the Band unless he was aboard, but "Jericho" suggests otherwise.

Coming up with new material "took a while," Helm says. "After we finally got going, we were able to call on some friends and finish a few pieces that we had started.

"Hopefully, we'll get to do it again real quick. We think we've got three or four good ones that we didn't finish up in time for the 'Jericho' record. So we're looking forward to that."

As for the notion that the Band was largely Robertson's vehicle, Helm simply shrugs. "People like to simplify things down," he says, over the phone from his home in New York. "If they can put it under a simpler heading, the better they like it.

"But it's certainly not the case, just like the Band is not just a vehicle for Garth Hudson. As great as Garth is -- and Garth is our bandleader, right? -- it's a co-op thing. Always has been.

"That's why we were always just as comfortable in that rhythm section mode, playing with Bob [Dylan] or playing with the Hawk [Ronnie Hawkins]. It was fun for us."

Even though Helm is often considered the best-known voice in the Band, Helm himself feels that Richard Manuel's voice "was the strong element."

"Two or three of the songs that I did ended up radio songs," he says. "Like 'Up On Cripple Creek' did pretty good on the radio, and 'Rag Mama Rag,' things like that. But I think it was the song as much as it was my voice.

"Among ourselves, Richard was always our main singer. We would swap vocals around, and try to find out how to do 'em and who should sing. We were looking through some stuff for our boxed set, and we all did lead and vocals for the other on 'Twilight.' Richard cut it kinda bluesy, I cut it a little more country-style, and Rick [Danko] cut it reggae."

Helm adds, by the way, that he doesn't know when that much-anticipated Band boxed set will arrive. But then, he's somewhat used to not having much control over how the Band's back catalog is handled. For instance, ask him what he thinks about having "The Weight" used in a soda commercial, and he just laughs. "Well, I hope we get paid for it," he says.

"No, when we heard that it was going to be used in a Coca-Cola commercial, I was kind of flattered myself. I like it when they go ahead and use the original artist, instead of trying to do an elevator version of a song where people know the melody.

"So it didn't bother me like that at all. I was happy that it was Coca-Cola, a good sponsor like that. So if they pay, it's gonna be great!"

Hear 'Jericho'

To hear excerpts from the Band's new album, "Jericho," call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County call 268-7736; in Harford County, 836-5028; in Carroll County, 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6147 after you hear the greeting.

5/8

The Band

When: Tonight, 8 p.m.

Where: Camden Yards Concert Hall (formerly Hammerjacks)

Tickets: $16

Call: (410) 659-7625 for information, (410) 481-7328 for tickets

5/8

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