Album: The Band

A Musical History, EMI
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For so influential a group, The Band have been ill-served by previous retrospective box sets. At last, the five-CD anthology A Musical History redresses that by offering not just demo sketches and alternate takes, but also helping to place their history and achievements in a broader context by including substantial tranches of their work with Bob Dylan - both unreleased performances from their 1966 and 1974 tours, and Basement Tapes recordings - and Ronnie Hawkins. In all, 30 of the 102 tracks were previously unissued. The real meat of the package is found on the first disc, which tracks their progress from callow R&B bruisers backing up Hawkins on standards like "Who Do You Love" and "Further On Up the Road", through to their recruitment as Dylan's backing band and the subsequent retreat to try to devise their own mature Band style. Of particular interest are the 10 tracks and sketches recorded by the transitional Levon & The Hawks, which serve to underline just how extraordinary a talent was the late Richard Manuel, on songs like the Ray Charles-esque "Honky Tonk" and gut-wrenching "He Don't Love You (And He'll Break Your Heart)". Also included is a DVD of filmed performances from various stages of The Band's history.