“I felt very much at home with The Band. You could tell in their music they know where they’re coming from and they know where they’re going. Each one had an extremely special interest in what they were doing.” –Toussaint, as told to Rob Bowman
Do they ever. Unencumbered by the myriad guests and grandiose sense that define The Last Waltz, and energized by Toussaint’s invaluable work, Rock of Ages is the sound of a great band pulling out all the stops. Robbie Robertson’s guitar solos take “Unfaithful Servant” to a higher ground; “The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show” kicks with raunchy R&B abandon; Garth Hudson delivers a show-stealing performance on “The Genetic Method,” a thrilling organ piece that incorporates elements of Anglican church music, folk, classical, and pop—as well as “Auld Lang Syne,” due to its being recorded on New Year’s Eve.
After various inferior editions and reissues, Rock of Ages is finally presented on an immaculate-sounding 180g 2LP set from Mobile Fidelity that lets Toussaint’s contributions, horn section’s energy, and the Band’s feverish interplay shine like never before. Mastered from the original tapes, the open, airy, natural, and balanced sound will have you returning to Rock of Ages again and again.
“Live albums tend to gloss over the depth, mystery and emotional intensity found on studio versions of the same songs, particularly when the group speeds things up to cover its inability to produce the desired results live. Here, The Band slows everything down, producing even more intense, deliberate and emotionally satisfying versions of familiar songs. Each play reveals more gems hidden within the musical folds. Be sure to crank it up! ” – Michael Fremer, www.analogplanet.com, Music 10/10, Sound 8/10!
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Released on the heels of the stilted, static Cahoots, the double-album Rock of Ages occupies a curious yet important place in Band history. Recorded at a spectacular New Years Eve 1971 gig, the show and album were intended to be a farewell of sorts before the Band took an extended break in 1972, but it turned out to be a last hurrah in many different ways, closing the chapter on the first stage of their career, when they were among the biggest and most important rock & roll bands. That sense of importance had started to creep into their music, turning their studio albums after The Band into self-conscious affairs, and even the wildly acclaimed first two albums seemed to float out of time, existing in a sphere of their own and never having the kick of a rock & roll band. Rock of Ages has that kick in spades, and it captures that road warrior side of the band that was yet unheard on record. Since this band — or more accurately its leader, Robbie Robertson — was acutely aware of image and myth, this record didn’t merely capture an everyday gig, it captured a spectacular, in retrospect almost a dry run for the legendary Last Waltz. New Orleans R&B legend Allen Toussaint was hired to write horn charts and conduct them, helping to open up the familiar tunes, which in turn helped turn this music into a warm, loose, big-hearted party. And that’s what’s so splendid about Rock of Ages: sure, the tightness of the Band as a performing unit is on display, but there’s also a wild, rowdy heart pumping away in the backbeat of this music, something that the otherwise superb studio albums do not have. Simply put, this is a joy to hear, which may have been especially true after the dour, messy Cahoots, but even stripped of that context Rock of Ages has a spirit quite unlike any other Band album. Indeed, it could be argued that it captured the spirit of the Band at the time in a way none of their other albums do.
2. King Harvest (Has Surely Come)
3. Caledonia Mission
4. Get Up Jake
5. The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show
6. Stage Fright
7. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
8. Across The Great Divide
9. This Wheel’s On Fire
10. Rag Mama Rag
11. The Weight
12. The Shape I’m In
13. Unfaithful Servant
14. Life is a Carnival
15. The Genetic Method
16. Chest Fever
17. (I Don’t Want To) Hang Up My Rock And Roll Shoes