Featured Album – Cahoots – The Band

Wikipedia: “Cahoots is the fourth studio album by The Band. It was released in 1971 to mixed reviews and was their last album of original material for four years.

The album features guest vocals from Van Morrison and Libby Titus*, the then-partner of drummer Levon Helm and the mother of their daughter Amy Helm.** Titus also contributed uncredited backing vocals to “The River Hymn,” the first time a woman appeared on a Band album.”

Other than a cut here and there, I had pretty much overlooked this album. I don’t know why. Mixed reviews be damned. This a pretty fine album. It’s got that classic Band sound with the unmatchable Danko, Helm, Manuel vocals. And it’s got that sometimes rockin’, sometimes lazybones sound we love about the best Canadian band of all time.

“When I Paint My Masterpiece” was a tune written by The Band’s friend and collaborator, Bob Dylan. I had always believed that it came out of the legendary Basement Tapes and it may well have been somewhat birthed there. However it came into the world, and the first released recording of it it was The Band’s version on Cahoots. I love Garth’s accordion on this one:

Did you know that Van the Man and Robbie Robertson wrote a song together? Yes, and it’s called “4% Pantomime.” The song tells the story of two drunk musicians stuck in Los Angeles with only a bottle of whiskey.

Supposedly, The “4%” in the title of the song refers to the difference in alcohol content between two brands of whiskey: Johnnie Walker Red and Johnnie Walker Black. Apparently, Richard Manuel and Morrison were somewhat inebriated and acting out the parts, hence pantomime. I would like to have been a fly on the wall for that.

Listen to this tune and tell me that Springsteen wasn’t inspired by it and should also, quite frankly, get the E Street Band to do it:

This album was released in the great musical year of 1971. Alas, not such a great year on a personal level for these guys. They were still very much relevant and influential. But they were starting to descend into the typical booze, drugs and overall madness of the rock lifestyle script. Other band members started to accuse Robbie Robertson of being authoritarian. But somebody’s gotta drive the bus when everybody else is hooked on smack.

Arguably the best-known song from this album is “Life Is a Carnival” co-written by Robertson, Danko and Helm. The horn arrangement is by the late great Allen Toussaint.

Hey, buddy, would you like to buy a watch real cheap?
Here on the street
I got six on each arm and two more round my feet

Life is a carnival, believe it or not
Life is a carnival, two bits a shot

Let’s end this musical journey with “The River Hymn” with Libby Titus.

*Titus is now Donald Fagen’s wife.”

**I met Amy when I went to an Allmans/Dead/Band rock camp last year. She led us in a singing class for the week. Seemed pretty down-to-earth to me.

Fortunately, there is a Deluxe Edition with a lot of good stuff.

12 thoughts on “Featured Album – Cahoots – The Band

  1. “They just keep draggin me back In”. “Mixed reviews”? You know what they can do with those. Another very good record from these guys that just goes into the big pot CB calls “Band Music”. Totally agree, always thought Bruce and the E Streeters were joined at the hip. And yes you and I could produce the album. We’d get the Belfast Cowboy to drop by, maybe even Bob.
    Just came off a work out listening to Colin Linden (good Canadian kid) getting some help from Danko and Hudson. Our paths seem to jive often.


    1. The worst song The Band has is better than the best song of a lot of other groups. The mixed reviews were because, well, it’s not “Big Pink.” So what? That classic sound is still there. I love those non-harmony harmonies of three singers. The Jefferson Airplane had it too with Balin and Kantner singing and Gracie Slick wailing away above them. Check out this “Deluxe” Cahoots. Lotsa “live” stuff crammed on there I haven’t even heard yet but I’m warming up the jalopy .

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The only person that has the final word on what I think is good is myself. Totally an individual thing. I dont have a favorite Band record. Different ones take turns on my turntable and Ive always been rewarded. For a long time. The 3 voices of the Band is such a cool thing. Embarrassment of riches in my book. Even Robbie takes the odd turn.

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        1. I think we discussed this before. I read ‘Testimony’ (Big Earl gave it to me. I wouldnt have read it otherwise) but not any of Levon’s. The one I like best is ‘Across The Great Divide, The Band And America’
          Funny how this works. Just about 20 minutes ago my Gal asked me to hook up some Band music while she rides the stationary. She’s a fan also.


  2. Good stuff, Jim! Based on your picks, this does sound like a great album. I only knew “Life Is a Carnival” and “When I Paint My Masterpiece.” I’m going to add this to music I should further explore.

    In most cases, I still only listen to one or a few songs by the same artist at a time, as opposed to entire albums. The latter is pretty time-consuming and as such challenging. But some albums are definitely worth it. “Cahoots” looks like one of them!


    1. You’re sure right it’s time-consuming. I don’t know where Aphoristical finds the time to listen to and then rank all those albums. And he told me once he listens to each one several times. But we also both know there are plenty of albums from 1971 that are worth listening to multiple times.

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  3. I think this one is better on paper than it is in practice – lots of interesting guests and arrangements, but the material’s not as good as the first two albums IMO. It’s an interesting reaction to Stage Fright, which I reckon is way too samey. Moon Struck One was one of my favourites.


    1. Disagree strongly that it’s better on paper. Sure those first couple of albums are hard to beat. And for that reason I went into it with lowered expectations. I actually like it quite a bit.


  4. Great write-up, Jim. The Band was one of the first groups I covered at my blog, nearly 12 years ago, and this album ended up being a pleasant surprise. It’s definitely stronger than a lot of critics would have us believe. The main criticism is that Cahoots isn’t the first three albums, but few groups could keep up that level of brilliance. As Graham stated earlier, “The Moon Struck One” is a particular highlight for me. It’s possibly my favorite Richard Manuel-sung song in their catalog.


    1. I’m a Band fan and weirdly I barely knew this one. “Pleasant surprise” is right. No group is consistent or releases great album after great album. (Well, the Stones did for a while.) But I really enjoyed it and the Deluxe Edition has a boatload of stuff.


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