It took a group that was eighty percent Canadian to assemble what might be rock’s strongest meditation on American history. After years as the barnstorming bar band the Hawks and a few turns as Bob Dylan’s comrades in arms on his first electric tours, the five members of the Band retreated to a house outside of Woodstock and recorded a pair of unprecedented masterworks. Music from Big Pink defined the back-porch rootsiness that remains a central inspiration for the “alternative country” movement, but it was The Band that solidified their accomplishment. Passing their instruments around like it was a hootenanny, such songs as the joyful hoedown “Rag Mama Rag,” the achingly wistful “Whispering Pines,” and the Civil War epic “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” all represented uncharted territory for pop, and tackled the astonishing scope of this American life.
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