“Virgil Caine is the name, and I served on the Danville train,” says the narrator of this uncanny attempt by a mostly Canadian rock band to conjure a perfect folk-ballad simulacrum of sepia-toned Americana. The lament of a Confederate soldier standing in the ruins of the starving American South, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” is made to sing around the campfire, high-lonesome harmonies and all. It became an unlikely hit for Joan Baez and reached immortality with a brass-backed version in the Martin Scorsese documentary The Last Waltz. The latter rendition is slightly disfigured by Robbie Robertson’s grandstanding and fake-singing, since “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” belongs to the group’s only Southerner, singer-drummer Levon Helm, who gave the Band its dirt-swept voice and this song its broken heartbeat.
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