For those shy souls that find a fully stocked Box set a little too much for absorption, Capitol has revisited the perfect set, selected a handful of representative tracks, and assembled an easily accessible single disc distillation of A Musical History. For those that want a little more, there is the Special Edition of the same selections but fortified with a DVD.
The Band was one with a rich history, as the name of the Boxed set implies. Having backed up “Screamin’” Ronnie Hawkins in a unit known as Ronnie Hawkins and The Hawks, before venturing out on their own, The Band has carved a deep niche out for their satisfying body of work. They made seven albums before publicly disbanding in the biggest departure show known to Rock, The Last Waltz. Although they made way for the incoming class of rock bands, their influence and music never left. You can even hear their best known tune, “The Weight” on commercials.
Robbie Robertson spent over two years in the selection and production of A Musical History, the 5CD/1DVD book-styled Box overview of the legacy left behind by The Band. On The Best of A Musical History, there are 19 well-rounded selections extracted from the complete set that looks over the career of The Band rather than being just another Greatest Hits package.
Where A Musical History spent considerable time with multiple selections from each period in the life of The Band; intensively going over hits, album cuts, demos, and live tracks, The Best of A Musical History follows those same paths but stops only momentarily at key points in the legacy of The Band. You get the perfect introduction with “Who do You Love?,” a beginning tune with their first recording band, Ronnie Hawkins & The Hawks, but that’s all that you get for that period. It moves a tune into the next phase, Levon & the Hawks before moving on with a single version from Dylan’s interaction with The Hawks (“Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?”).
The first hit, “The Weight,” from their brilliant Capitol debut album, Music From Big Pink (1968), is included here as well as the mesmerizing “I Shall Be Released,” a Dylan composition sung by Richard Manuel that will stay with you forever, from the same album. Also included is the Bob Dylan classic, “Forever Young,” from his Planet Waves (1974) album and which featured The Band as the key musicians. The rest are representative selections from various albums and events, like “Slippin’ & Slidin’” from the Festival Express Train Tour. The final two cuts included on this shortened compilation are “Twilight,” a song sketch from 1975, and an outtake from Islands (1976), “Home Cookin’.” The included DVD on the Special Edition CD/DVD version offers 5 videos, two from the famed Festival Express Train Tour with Joplin, and The Grateful Dead, amongst others.
The booklet contains a fantastic selection of photos, a collection of detailed credits of the included tracks, and a discography. All in all, The Best of A Musical History is really designed for those that want a well-represented but condensed overview of The Band rather than the in-depth package that this CD is culled from is. And while the completeness of A Musical History is the real way to go, this scaled down version is no slouch.