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Albums of the Month: November 2013

Album: Music from Big Pink

Artist: The Band

Released: July 1st, 1968

Highlights: Tears of Rage, The Weight, This Wheel's On Fire, I Shall Be Released

America's Rock n' Roll sent waves across the Atlantic, triggering an explosion of British creativity that lead to a massive cultural invasion. While The Beatles and The Stones conquered the music world, the US was left with a massive void in guitar music. Ironically, it took a group of Canadians, plus a guy from Arkansas, to fill up that emptiness. They did so by channeling the traditions of root rock into a laid-back and beautiful record that delicately displayed the group's skills in songwriting, their mastery of the instruments and the unparalleled harmonies produced by the conjunction of the group's three vocalists.

The album's strongest numbers are, undoubtedly, the songs on which Bob Dylan contributed when he was exiled with the group in Woodstock. Dylan's “I Shall Be Released” soars to new heights with Richard Manuel's interpretation, and the collaborations of “Tears of Rage” and “This Wheel's on Fire” show the loose energy that Dylan and The Band created on the sessions that would give birth to “The Basement Tapes”. At the same time, The Band proves that they can work quite well without Dylan on songs such as “The Weight”, “Caledonia Mission”, “We Can Talk”, and “Black Veil”, which is one of the album's songs that are beautiful enough to make any man cry. “Music from Big Pink” is a major staple in American rock, and it proved that US bands could compete with the dominant storm of British groups.

Album:The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society

Artist: The Kinks

Released: November 22nd, 1968

Highlights: Do You Remember Walter?, Picture Book, Village Green, Starstruck

On their first five albums The Kinks could never put together a complete effort. Even if a part of that early discography is quite good - “Something Else By the Kinks” and “Face to Face” - a masterful recorded still eluded the brilliancy of Ray Davies. “Village Green Preservation Society” fills those voids quite effectively. Its thematic cohesion, displayed by Davies' melancholic singing and his lyrics that yearn for a simpler nearly utopic past England, brought to life an album that is tight and coherent; and the fact that all songs have some value to add to the theme, not to mention their musical quality, makes “Village Green Preservation Society” devoid of fillers and full of highlights.

Aside from the blues of “Last of the Steam Powered Trains” and the whimsical gloom of “Wicked Annabella”, the record has a nearly pastoral feeling to it. A lot of it has to do with the album's glorious acoustic arrangements, but a lot of credit also goes to the fact Davies is sadly urging to turn back time as he goes through memories of a rural past. “Picture Book” and “People Take Pictures of Each Other” are the songs that best describe the record's bittersweetness. Both put a spotlight on the importance of freezing moments in time to keep memories of the past well alive, but while on the former Davies seems excited about that concept, on the latter he sings “Oh how I love things as they used to be / Don't show me no more, please”. “Village Green Preservation Society” is, then, a peaceful stroll through the past; one that reveals that while we do love to look back on great moments of our lives, the reality that they are gone and cannot be lived again brings us sour stings of pain. It is a sadly beautiful feeling, and here it is put on record with excellence.

Album: Give 'Em Enough Rope

Artist: The Clash

Released: November 10th, 1978

Highlights: Safe European Home, Tommy Gun, Stay Free, All the Young Punks

The Clash's second record, and their last punk rock album, is certainly the band's least groundbreaking effort. It does not feature the sprawling experimentation of genres present in “London Calling”, “Sandinista!”, and “Combat Rock”; and it does not show a punk band that is willing to flirt with reggae, like their eponymous debut so clearly highlighted. “Give 'Em Enough Rope”, though, is a focused vicious attack of ten songs and thirty-six minutes that does not present a single weak moment of songwriting or performance. It is as tight as The Clash ever was, and it exposes a band smartly exploring the last few uncharted corners of their initial sound before moving on to new grounds.

Although “Give 'Em Enough Rope” is still raw in a few places, it airs the band's punk aggression with a smoother production, hiding the garage sound of the first record, and turning it into a completely different monster whose loudness flirts with hard rock. Strummer remains an acid political lyricist, attacking the media's unintended glorification of terrorism on “Tommy Gun”, and noting the constant threat of war that plagued the world on “English Civil War”, while Mick Jones emerges as a stellar songwriter on “Stay Free”, his musical letter to an old friend who got arrested. But the album never gets so powerful and meaningful as on its relatively lengthy closer “All the Young Punks”, on which Strummer laments the philosophy of new self-proclaimed punk rockers. It is a bitter farewell to a movement that lost its purpose, perhaps before even having one, and a fitting end for the band's last punk record.