Cahoots

Cahoots
The Band
Produced by The Band
15 September 1971, Capitol
Remastered with bonus tracks, 2001

Remixed totally in 2021

Gatefold with complete lyrics printed for the first time on a Band album: not a good thing
Images from the 2000 Japanese CD version, which replicates the sleeve exactly, right down to the stippled texture of the card.

CHART: US #21.

side oneside two
Life Is A Carnival
(Danko-Helm-Robertson)
Shoot Out in Chinatown
(Robertson)
When I Paint My Masterpiece
(Bob Dylan)
The Moon Struck One
(Robertson)
Last of The Blacksmiths
(Robertson)
Thinkin’ Out Loud
(Robertson)
Where Do We Go From Here?
(Robertson)
Smoke Signal
(Robertson)
4% Pantomime
(Robertson- Van Morrison)
Volcano
(Robertson)
The River Hymn
(Robertson)
Cahoots: The Band, Capitol 1971

Musicians:

Robbie Robertson – guitar, vocals
Levon Helm – vocals, drums, mandolin, guitar
Richard Manuel – vocals, piano, drums
Rick Danko – vocals, bass
Garth Hudson – organ, accordion, saxophones

Originally published in Jawbone magazine. Also on The Band website (theband.hiof. no)

What the critics said:

Cahoots was literal, where the other records were tantalizing, strained where they moved. There was a flatness in the music, good ideas forced through a banal, didactic mesh …
(Greil Marcus, ‘Mystery Train’)

Instead of growing organically from some musical seed, the songs were constructed like miniature soapboxes; instead of being peopled by flesh-and-blood characters, they were dominated by phantasmic abstractions. The pastoralism was … finally veering towards sentimentality. More fundamentally the songs were just melodically undistinguished.
(Barney Hoskyns, ‘Across The Great Divide: The Band and America”

Cahoots was a catastrophe. Robertson completely outstripped himself here – with the exception of ‘Life is A Carnival’ and Dylan’s ‘When I Paint My Masterpiece’ there simply isn’t a good song on the record.    * *
(The Rolling Stone Record Guide, 1979 edition)

…With ‘Cahoots’ strain began showing, Allen Toussaint’s horn arrangement on ‘Life is A Carnival’ and a guest appearance by Van Morrison on ‘4% Pantomime’ were great highlights, but the record was uncertain, murky and unsatisfying –
* *  1/2   (Rolling Stone Album Guide, 1992)

Wheh, these fellows can really play … Seem overtly worried about the passing of the world as they know it, though … not just blacksmiths, but eagles, rivers, trains, the works.  B –
(Christgau’s Guide to Rock Albums of the 70s)

Melodramatic rather than emotional, the set offered few highlights, although Van Morrison’s cameo on ‘4% Pantomime’ suggested a bonhomie distinctly absent elsewhere.
(The Guinness Encyclopaedia of Rock)

… Cahoots, their pretty awful fourth album. Life is A Carnival (is) the one good track 
(Andy Gill, Q12, September 1987)

It would be pointless to pretend that Cahoots is on a par with The Band or Music From Big Pink, yet it’s by no means an abysmal album … Robertson’s pining for bygone tradition should be seen in the context of the collapsing state of The Band itself. Were his elegies for the blacksmith and the American eagle actually sublimations of his feelings about the group?
(Barney Hoskyns, Gadfly Online, March / April 2001)

Cahoots was the first album recorded at Albert Grossman’s Bearsville Studios in Woodstock. The sessions were difficult, as the studio was still having the bugs worked out and the Band was experiencing internal problems. Robertson’s songs had become much more difficult; the structures, chord changes, and arrangements were increasingly complex. Despite these factors, the album has a number of gems, including “Life Is a Carnival” with its great Allen Toussaint horn arrangement, Dylan’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” a duet between Richard Manuel and Van Morrison entitled “4% Pantomime,” “The River Hymn,” and “Where Do We Go from Here.”
Rob Bowman, All Music Guide

Be fair! For an early sixties album this wouldn’t have been too bad at all. Two all-time classics (Life Is A Carnival, When I Paint My Masterpiece). A memorable, loose collaboration with Van Morrison (4% Pantomime). A novelty number (Shoot Out In Chinatown). A stately, serious song that very nearly makes it (The River Hymn). That’s five reasons for owning it. Oh, but four of them are on the To Kingdom Come anthology. And three are on the Across The Great Divide box set. But it’s not an early sixties album resting on the glory of two decent tracks. It’s 1971. The rest is sub-standard. But that was no problem before rock got serious.

The Band’s first two albums were critically acclaimed, standard critics poll Top 100 albums. Stage Fright was generally thought to suffer from the dreaded third-album syndrome (Rolling Stone Album Guide demotes it to three stars), but the late John Bauldie reviewed the re-release on CD in Q, and put it right up where it deserved, as a five star album like the first two.

Cahoots, the fourth album, was the critical fall from grace. Robertson had taken over the lion’s share of work as Richard Manuel faded as a writer and gave up. The Band had ceased to be the unique combination of talents and had put the whole responsibility into Robbie’s court. Someone this talented can’t ever produce total crap, but he was stretched; straining for creative inspiration.

I was worried when I bought it on the day it was released.  I can remember going home on the top of a double decker bus, rain streaming over the windows, reading the track list, itching to let the stylus drop onto track one.

Why was I worried? Danger signal. The lyrics were printed on the inside sleeve. Robertson had said in all the Stage Fright  interviews that the joy of rock lyrics was puzzling out the words, mishearing them, guessing. I spent days listening to this one again and again, waiting, hoping for it to touch me like the first three albums had. But no, only a couple of tracks would stick in my head. I couldn’t remember the tunes of half of it. I had to admit that my favourite band had produced an album that was 50% turkey. The stuff that’s come out on The Band in the last few years implies that at least two, and possibly all of them were too stoned or strung out to work, having invested their new found wealth unwisely.

Robbie Robertson was concerned that they’d lost their classic sound, by recording in a new studio, saying that ‘the sound nauseated me. It was too bright and cold.’

It’s much easier to assign tracks to different lead vocalists, and the trademark swapping of lead lines between the three singers is rarely present.

We can add the misgivings of all the participants. Garth Hudson said ‘it was harder for me to find something different for each song,’

Robbie Robertson admitted to feeling uninspired and that a lot of the songs were half-finished ideas.

Rick Danko said that Richard and Levon weren’t interested, and that everybody was wrecked all the time.

Richard Manuel said ‘What was missing was what they used to call soul music.

Levon Helm sums it up:
It wasn’t a good time for us to be working together, or even to be working.  Richard stopped writing and for all intents retired. Garth didn’t get much inspiration from the material Robbie was bringing in. I’d shot my wad on “Life Is A Carnival.”
(Levon Helm, This Wheel’s On Fire)

The album track-by-track

In 2000, Robbie spoke to Rob Bowman for sleeve notes for the remastered version of this album.

Beside the extinction theme, there is a very strong influence of movies on Cahoots. Whether it’s John Ford on Smoke Signal, or Truffaut in The Moon Struck One, or Howard Hawkes in The River Hymn or Charlie Chan movies in Shoot Out in Chinatown, my interest at the time was even more in cinema than it was in song.
(Robbie Robertson, sleeve notes to 2000 remaster) This is repeated in the 2021 remix.

SIDE ONE

Life is A Carnival (R.Danko / L. Helm / J. R. Robertson)

Horn arrangements – Alan Toussaint

Life Is A Carnival: The Band, Capitol UK 45 1971

The single release, A side.

This featured on Band live shows right up to their final shows in 1996. It’s one of the six or seven songs they nearly always performed, especially when they could afford a horn section. It’s also a rare Robertson / Helm / Danko writing credit. The feud all over the internet repeats Levon Helm’s claim that he should have had more credit. Robbie Robertson avoided responding, but finally said that he gave Levon a couple of credits for ‘being there while I wrote it.’

(2020 addition) In Testimony, Robbie Robertson makes it clear that the song was complete before he showed it to Rick Danko and Levon Helm:

Rick jumped right in and started to play along. Levon got behind the drums and worked on an unusual pattern to go with my guitar and vocal … we were back in the circle, and it felt so good that I ended up sharing the songwriting credit to the tune with Rick and Levon.
(Robbie Robertson, Testimony)

So the rhythms were worked out by Helm and Danko, with lyrics by Robbie Robertson, though Helm credits Richard Manuel with the line Two bits a shot.  Toussaint, Lee Dorsey’s producer, was brought up to Woodstock to do the horns. At the time he’d never heard The Band, but it was the beginning of a collaboration which flourished on the Rock of Ages live set.

Lyrically this continues Robertson’s love of the carnival. Supposedly he once worked in one. It was expressed in The W.S. Walcott Medicine Showon Stage Fright, and reached it’s culmination in his role in the film Carnie.  Levon Helm has the perfect hard-worn Carnie barker voice. Memorable lines:

You can walk on the water, drown in the sand.
You can fly off a mountain top … anybody can.
Run away … it’s the restless age.
Look away … you can turn the page.
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!

When I Paint My Masterpiece (Bob Dylan)

The album started well. The best two tracks come first, and maybe that’s because they already knew that the rest didn’t achieve the same standard. The Band performed this on the 1992 Dylan Tribute show, with Garth Hudson and Richard Bell on twin accordions, though it’s not been a live number otherwise.

The Band recorded the song first. Robbie had mentioned to Bob Dylan that they were a song or two short for the album, and Dylan suggested the song and played it through in his kitchen. Richard Williams said in 1971 that it was good, but not great, and Dylan would probably do it better. Well, he was wrong. Dylan released it on Greatest Hits Vol II  a few months later, and … it wasn’t fantastic. Levon Helm sings it better (compare also Blind  Willie McTell).  Levon Helm is on mandolin, as Helm says “to give it that European tourist flavour.” Richard Manuel moved to drums.

Garth’s sleazy accordion  reeks of Italy, accompanied by heavily strummed acoustic guitar, then Danko’s melodic bass. Levon’s still the lead singer.

Oh, the streets of Rome are filled with rubble
Ancient footprints are everywhere
You can almost think that you’re seeing double
On a cold dark night on the Spanish stairs!

They stick in Rome, for a date with a pretty little girl from Greece, then they’re dodging lions in the Coliseum, then they’re pursued across hilltops by wild geese. (Rome was saved by the warning given by geese, but not wild ones). Then it’s:

Sailing round the world in a dirty gondola
Oh, to be back in the land of Coca-Cola

Next stop is Brussels, on a plane ride so bumpy that I almost cried …

It’s unusually transparent for a Dylan lyric and gets in its dig at the press:

Newspapermen eating candy
had to be held down by big police

Last of the Blacksmiths (J.R. Robertson)

Which is where things start to go wrong. 

Richard Manuel sings it. Piano and acoustic guitar dominate, but the drums sound more like Manuel than Helm, so it’s probably Garth Hudson playing the piano line. There’s a really weird saxophone solo – Richard Williams thought it sounded as if it was being played through liquid nicotine. All the elements are impressive. Impressive bit of guitar. Clever piece of sax. Nice piano tone. But somehow they don’t go anywhere. Perhaps the weight of the lyrics (no pun intended) pull it all down.

It was an odd experiment. It was bizarre,
(Robbie Robertson)

Where do we go from here? (J.R. Robertson)

This is the one everyone takes the piss out of. It’s just too earnest.

Barney Hoskyns says (“Across The Great Divide – The Band and America”):
It’s easily the worst offender in the didactic stakes … a desperately forced eco-lament.

Hoskyns tellingly quotes Robbie Robertson on his own composition (the quote was taken from Rob Bowman’s original 1989 interview).:

Robbie Robertson: It’s a shit-headed version … we got like hammer-headed … I don’t like what I did then under those circumstances. There’s a very moving thing in there wanting to come out …and it ain’t there in this version.
Rob Bowman, interview 1989

This has a non-melody like the preceding track (and most of Islands ). The voices all come in for the chorus, but they no longer blend or contrast. They’re insignificant. Richard Manuel hits some high notes, but it’s trying much too hard.

Have you heard about the buffalo on the plain?
How  at one time they’d stampede a thousand strong?
And now that buffalo’s in the zoo, standing in the rain,
Just one more victim of fate, like California state.
Sure do miss the silence when it’s gone.

Hmm. Robbie returns to the theme in the 1990s on Music From The Native Americans.  There’s interest value in this earlier Great Plains theme, but in the 1990s the music and arrangement conjure up Native American sounds. Not here. And what is the connection between a buffalo as a victim of fate and California state (whose symbol is a bear)?

Oh, yes. They rhyme.

Another example of the lyrics:
Where do we go from here? Oh woman my woman
La La La La La La La La La she said ‘nowhere’

We have something in Europe called the Eurovision song contest which features songs with titles along the lines of Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep, Ding A Dong, Boom Bam Bam. It’s a candidate, except that the melody isn’t catchy enough.

4% Pantomime (J.R. Robertson / Van Morrison)

Richard Williams thought this was the best track. Van Morrison’s first meeting with any of The Band was  in LA in 1970, where he ran into his Woodstock neighbour, Robbie Robertson. The result was a developing friendship with The Band, particularly with pianist Richard Manuel. The two men were equally caught up in the soul and sound of Ray Charles, and hit it off immediately. Van was invited to play with The Band on their fourth albumThis was more of a privilege than it might seem nowadays. The Band had declined Bob Dylan’s offer to lend his name and backing vocals to Music From Big Pink,  settling instead for a cover painting. Eric Clapton had disbanded Cream in sheer despondency after hearing that album. He even went up to Woodstock hoping he’d pluck up the courage to ask to join them, but his nerve failed. George Harrison had mooned around the outside of their camp fire, hoping he’d be asked to jam. The only outsider to feature musically on their early albums was producer John Simon. When Van played with The Band in 1971 his name wasn’t worth extra sales to them in any way. He was there on merit.

The song has interesting lyrics and a pretty nondescript melody, which is par for the course on Cahoots.   It’s a vocal duet between Richard Manuel and Van Morrison. The title comes from the 4% difference in proof between Johnny Walker Red whisky and Johnny Walker Black. The session results from Van dropping in by chance while Robbie Robertson was writing the song. Van decided to help, though Richard was not present, he acted singing it to Richard, with Robbie improvising Richard’s part, and they recorded it in one take the same evening. Robbie’s lyric was the first reference to Van as The Belfast Cowboy, though it seems Robbie had coined it before the session. Journalists owe Robbie a lot. He is always quotable.

Van and Richard were acting this whole thing out. For a second when I was watching, it became soundless and it became all visuals – people’s hands and veins and people’s necks. It was almost like this movement thing was going on, and the music was carrying itself. It’s bizarre and wild. It was a lot of fun to do it. It was an archive kind of thing that we actually put on record.
(Robbie Robertson)

(2020: In Craig Harris’s book The Band he quotes the above and added ‘Robbie Robertson told Peter Viney.’ I wish that were true, but it’s not. I usually footnoted articles, but not that one. The quote was given to Rob Bowman in a 1989 interview with Robbie.)

Levon Helm was also impressed:

Richard Manuel played the drums * with our neighbour Van Morrison on a raucous number cut in one take, 4% Pantomime.  This happened when Van came to Bearsville (studio) and began discussing the merits of scotch whisky with Richard. They acted out some lyrics about management and a poker game and Richard sang, ‘Oh, Belfast Cowboy, can you call a spade a spade?’ It was an extremely liquid session, Van and Richard were into it, and there was horror among the civilians at the studio when the two dead-drunk musicians argued about who would drive the other one home. Richard drove, and I think he made it. Lord knows he wrecked a lot of cars that year.
(Levon Helm, ‘This Wheel’s On Fire’)

  • SEE the notes on the 2021 remaster. The master tapes make it clear that Levon was playing drums and Richard piano.

SIDE TWO

Shoot Out In Chinatown (J.R. Robertson)

It was knocked right back at the time of release for the “racist” mock-Chinese (Chinese takeaway) guitar bits and lyrics.

The music no longer had any life of its own; it took its cues from the lyrics, and when the result wasn’t flat, it was cute. When I Paint My Masterpiece was about an expatriate artist in Europe, so the tune featured a little Michael LeGrand accordion; the utterly pointless Shoot Out In Chinatown came complete with Fu Manchu guitar, a touch so tasteless it verged on racism.
(Greil Marcus, MysteryTrain)

Few of the critics liked Cahoots. But, as ever, Marcus makes a point, though obliquely. There is a “tourist” subplot to Cahoots, from the accordion to suggest the Europe of ruins and gondolas, through the plinkety-plonk pastiche Chinese sound on Shoot Out in Chinatown, to the sleazy Alan Toussaint horns on Life Is A Carnivalor the self-conscious revival meeting in The River Hymn.

As Levon has admitted, Robbie Robertson was fighting to hold the Band together through the recording. Only Robertson and Danko seem to have had much interest in the album. Robertson was trying desperately to re-use proven and trusted themes. Hence the tour of Americana historical locations, like the revivalist meeting and the carnival (again).

San Francisco’s Chinatown would seem to offer another suitable slice of American myth. It was where you rushed to spend your money after hitting it big up on Cripple Creek. Robertson, as usual, was using popular American mythology. Present day Chinatown IS a tourist attraction and a parody of itself (and presumably was in 1971 too), right down to the pagoda-style call boxes, which have been copied in London’s tiny Chinatown district. It’s also a present-day community, and that’s where the fear of offence comes in. You cannot deny the effects that stereotyping can have on people. Marcus’s point was not that they were creating a mock-Chinese sound, nothing wrong with that,  but that the sound was like a Fu Manchu film. I don’t have access to any Fu Manchu films to check, but it sounds like the kind of thing I remember. On the other hand, maybe it’s just a mock Chinese sound.

Not every critic hated it. Richard Williams was positive, previewing one month before the album’s release in 1971:

He … makes musical and lyrical cross-references of outrageous cleverness. You might think Shoot Out In Chinatown – with its parodying of Chinese music – is about the great days of the ghetto, around the turn of this century. Not so – it’s about right now, because San Francisco’s Chinatown police force has just been broken up, signalling the end of an era. Robbie obviously reads more of Time Magazine than just the cover stories on his group.
(Richard Williams, Melody Maker)

The song was intended to be a parody, and its starting point in Robertson’s mind was the headline about the disbanding of the Chinatown police  a few months earlier. It therefore fits Cahoots themes of disappearing railroads and American eagles and buffalo and vanishing blacksmiths. The symbols were being concreted over, and Chinatown was one of them.

The second and third choruses stress this:

Shoot out in Chinatown,
They nailed up every door
They’re gonna level it to the ground
And close it up for ever more

Then in the last chorus:

They’re gonna turn the place upside down
Till you won’t recognize it at all.

So far it seems to be a lament for a soon-to-be-lost district (how wrong he was, in fact). The bits that may have caused offence are right at the start:

Trouble on the waterfront,
Evil in the air
When the Chinatown  patrol came down
To bring a little order there
They came in undercover
To the laundry’s back room
And right there before their eyes
Was a Shanghai saloon

And continue through the middle.

For about five dollars or one thousand yen
you could gamble and ramble in a brothel
or take it to the opium den

It rushes through the clichés. I like gamble and ramble.  The lyrics also mention laundry back rooms, Shanghai, Confucius, Buddha, The Waterfront, Frisco in its heyday imported from Hong Kong, fire dragons. 

I don’t think anyone is going to deny the existence of brothels, gambling dens and opium houses in 19th century Chinatown in San Francisco. I leafed through a couple of recent guide books, and they both mention these things prominently, as well as the existence of 7500 laundries and telephone operators able to speak five Chinese dialects (Robertson missed that one.) Modern tourist San Francisco reiterates the ‘brothels and gambling’ at every opportunity, as do the tourist stopovers in Alaska like Skagway, or the gold mining towns of Colorado.

The starting point was the break-up of the Chinatown Police (Patrol) and it’s not really clear what their role is – they lined them up against the wall.  Is it about police brutality? Or what? The last verse is an odd mix:

Confucius had once stated
All across the land
Below the surface crime and love
They go hand in hand

All across the land has absolutely no purpose except to provide a rhyme for hand in hand. Also the hallmark of a songwriter in trouble, trying to make it scan is there, the unnecessary pronoun:

Below the surface crime and love
They go hand in hand

they  is redundant . You never hear people say Crime and love they go hand in hand. It’s a purely song lyric device, dating back to early English ballads. But everyone uses it :

No reason to get excited, the thief he kindly spoke …
(Bob Dylan, All Along The Watchtower)

The Moon Struck One (J.R. Robertson)

The Moon Struck One: The Band, Capitol UK 45 B-side of Life Is A Carnival 1971
Note: Capitol advertised the first two Band LPs on 45 sleeves for years

This appeared on the Across the Great Divide  box set, for no apparent reason. Levon Helm says it was written in the hope of getting Gil Evans to add arrangements, but it didn’t happen. Gil Evans had agreed to orchestrate it, but didn’t get the job done in time. Supposedly Truffat’s Jules et Jim is the inspiration.

I’ve tried hard to get into this to no avail. There’s something about a great triangle between the singer, Julie his sweetheart and little John Tyler his cohort. (His what?) If you’re into that kind of thing go for David Crosby’s Triad, in the Jefferson Airplane version of course (Crown of Creation). Musically this is one of the few Band tracks to show any Beatles influence (Abbey Road ). It’s there in the harmonies on lines like as fast as we could run.  Eric Clapton quoted it as a favourite in an interview.

The lyrics include:

Julie came running through the pasture
She was screaming at the sky
She fell down to her knees
And the tears did fly
Little John was stung by a snake, over by the lake
And it looked like he was really really hurt
He was lying in the dirt,
Oh, we went as fast as we could run
But we lost little John as the moon struck one

If I want to hear this kind of tear-jerker, I’ll stick to Elvis on Old Shep. At least Old Shep arouses tears, if you’re pissed enough, rather than the odd snigger (and it looked like he was really really hurt). The first sign of drying-up as a lyricist is padding out lines with unnecessary auxiliary verbs (And the tears did fly  instead of the natural And the tears flew). This is Robbie’s lowest point. It’s awful.

The interest is Garth’s keyboard work. Richard Manuel sings touchingly of course. But when didn’t he?.

Eric Clapton didn’t agree:

 If I sat down and thought for ten minutes about what (Robbie Robertson)’s given me, I wouldn’t even be able to have coffee with him. I’d be awe-struck. I was devoted to the Band, and every song that he ever wrote for the Band had a profound effect on me. The story of the relationship in the song “The Moon Struck One” is so profound. It brings back so many memories of my own childhood that it seems like Robbie must have been there. And when I see him, I just have to throw all that out the window and be who I am.
(Rolling Stone interview, 1991)

The eternal triangle may have resonated (Patti Boyd and George Harrison).

Thinkin’ Out Loud (J.R. Robertson)

Very fine piano indeed. This stands up much better than I remember. Hidden away in there is one of Richard Manuel’s best instrumental showpieces. There’s a temptation to credit Garth with all the tricky keyboard pieces, but their old mentor Ronnie Hawkins always said he hired Manuel for his rhythmic piano thumping.

(• The 2021 remaster says it’s definitely Garth on piano and Levon on upright bass. I was totally wrong).

If it hadn’t been sandwiched where it is, it might have been remembered better.

The lyrics have memorable images for a change.

Transylvania train, circus never came
The heroes are all gone

I like:

Room service gone off duty
The bellman has retired
This hotel is a beauty
Even the house dick’s been fired

… which follows Stage Fright and 4% Pantomime in its reference to the experiences of a touring band.

Smoke Signal (J.R. Robertson)

This was one of the few tracks from the album that the Band did on live shows. It appeared sporadically up to the late 1974 tour. It’s on the dull side, but Robbie Robertson had a particularly impressive guitar solo which kept it alive. Native American theme again, and the piano dominates as on the previous track, this one sounds much more like Garth, but I could be wrong. There’s strange dragged-back drumming, which is sufficiently unconventional to be Richard. The guitar solo is jerky, intricate and well worth the price of admission.

The problem is that all the Native American references are second-hand reporting, unlike The Band album where the songs  were “of” the era they portrayed, rather than “about” the era.

Went to the movie matinee
To see the bluecoats try to get away
From a smoke signal

You feel that on ‘The Band’ we’d have been there among the bluecoats (or Native Americans) rather than watching them on the silver screen interpreted by John Ford.

Of course there’s the obligatory reference to a troubled society:

You don’t believe what you read in the papers
You can’t believe the stranger at your door
You don’t believe what you hear from your neighbour
Your neighbourhood ain’t even there no more

which compares to other Robertson links between present and past (the gold rush in Cripple Creek, Colorado connecting to an Appalachian myth AND a present day trucker), but this one doesn’t resonate!

You don’t believe what  they say on the radio
You don’t believe what you see in the video

That is linguistically interesting. I first saw a video recorder in about 1972 (a black and white Philips). I was using Sony open-reel video in around 1973. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a popular term in 1971 though. In dictionaries it is given in contrast to audio, and  meaning  the visual element of a television transmission.  Presumably Robertson is using this sense, rather than the current (British) sense of VCR, but I reckon that at that time it was an unusual word. The Shorter Oxford does say that it was a general ‘mid 20th century’ American term for ‘television as a broadcasting medium’.

And later it refers back to the album title (as you do): Young brothers join in cahoots.

Volcano (J.R. Robertson)

Rick Danko said that he spent a lot of time experimenting in the studio (seemingly he was one of the only ones interested), in particular arranging, producing and multi-tracking himself on this song. Impressive horns, which are probably all by Garth Hudson. Rick Danko might have put in a lot of time on his vocals, but the result has a jarring, over-bright tone. There’s no depth to the voice recording, almost as if it was put down on a cheap microphone losing the lower frequencies!

The thematic comparison of the young swain eloping with his true love brings to mind Caledonia Mission from Music From Big Pink, which is a mysterious song with layers of hidden guilt and obligation. Here the swain is directly asking soon as you are ready, hold that ladder steady, come tread softly through the night   and don’t leave me sitting here on top of your fence  as he tries to elope.

It’s just not the same.  It starts out very well but dies on the chorus.

The River Hymn (J.R. Robertson)

This sits in the same final position as I Shall Be Released on Music From Big Pink, King Harvest on The Band  and The Rumor on Stage Fright.   It makes every effort to emulate them stylistically.

On my very first hearing I thought ‘this song is really going to get beneath the skin’ but it didn’t. Elegiac piano starts it off, later accompanied by organ.  Libby Titus, Levon Helm’s then partner, sings uncredited backup vocals. Levon’s really straining for the notes on the lead vocal too. Maybe they wanted his accent to give the Revivalist meeting feel, but Richard or Rick would probably have found it easier to sing.

Robbie was trying too hard to recreate a revivalist pioneer picnic, and didn’t quite make it. It’s self-conscious. There’s another sign of songwriter’s block. Resort to the Thesaurus (section: adjectives and verbs associated with rivers):

It’s dark and wide and deep
Towards the sea it creeps,
I’m so glad I brought along my mandolin
to play the River Hymn.

You can ride on it or drink it in
poison it or dam it
fish in it and wash in it
swim in it and you can die in it, run you river run

Add some more nouns from the Thesaurus: bend, banks, rapids, ripple, water well, river bed, stone,

Pretty soon the women would all join in introduces – a woman on the chorus.

The line I’m so glad I brought along my mandolin introduces (surprise) – mandolin.

Add some forced rhymes: table / fable ; echo / let go; instead / river bed

Cahoots:  Remastered Version Bonus tracks (2000)

The remastered version offers four extra songs and a radio spot. These are not part of the artistic whole, but they’re good and if you’re driven to get a copy nowadays, they’ll be with it.

Endless Highway (Robbie Robertson)(Early studio take)

The live version on Before The Flood was where it was first heard, with Rick Danko singing lead. This earlier version has Richard Manuel singing lead and more piano. It’s weaker than the later version.

When I Paint My Masterpiece (Bob Dylan)(Alternate version)

Slightly different. Not better nor worse, but interesting changes here and there.

Bessie Smith (Rick Danko- Robbie Robertson)(outtake)

This first appeared on The Basement Tapes in 1975, claiming to be a basement (1968 ) song. Robertson now says that the song had been around since sessions for 1969’s The Band, but was recorded between that album and 1970’s Stage Fright. He recalls that they decided they couldn’t use the name “Bessie” twice on The Band, so dropped this song. Easier might have been changing the name in Up On Cripple Creekto Rosie or whatever.

What Robbie fails to explain is how it turned up in 1975 purporting to be cut in the basement at Big Pink. Everyone had guessed that it hadn’t been. It’s too well-recorded. Unfortunately, The Band have a steady history of falsifying song origins. Live At Watkins Glen is a total fake, largely made up of Rock of Ages outtakes and studio left-overs. The Last Waltz is heavily overdubbed. Most of Rock of Ages stems from the afternoon rehearsals, not the live concert (which accounts for the fabulous sound balance). And some of the Band tracks on The Basement Tapes –such as this song – date from much later. If they had it knocking around at the time of Cahoots, they were foolish not to use it. It would have been one of the best three tracks, if not the best of the lot. It would also have given Rick Danko a writer’s credit.

Don’t Do It (Holland-Dozier-Holland) (Studio version)

This Marvin Gaye hit was performed live at Woodstock in 1969, then became the opening track in a live version on Rock of Ages. Greil Marcus praised this version years before any ordinary mortals heard it, but in truth it was better in the live version. Allegedly, it wasn’t used because the groove was too similar to Life Is A Carnival.

Radio commercial

Well, that’s all it is.

The last words on the album?

It’s very good, though not flawless … (it) suffers occasionally from the same faults which put ‘Stage Fright’ just under the 100% mark. But it’s still better in every way than most bands will manage in a lifetime and what’s more it’s unique, because it comes from one of the two or three bands of our time which have been, and are, true originals.
(Richard Williams, Melody Maker, 1971)

It would be pointless to pretend that Cahoots is on a par with The Band or Music From Big Pink, yet it’s by no means an abysmal album. “Life is a Carnival,” with its astounding antiphonal horn arrangement by Allen Toussaint, remains the single funkiest track The Band ever recorded, and Bob Dylan’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” sung by Helm, is a droll fusion of Parisian chanson and Arkansas hoedown. And if Cahoots is above all an album of lamentation, a record that mourns the passing of key American traditions (“The River Hymn,” “Last of the Blacksmiths,” “Where Do We Go From Here?”), Robertson’s pining for bygone tradition should be seen in the context of the collapsing state of The Band itself. Were his elegies for the blacksmith and the American eagle actually sublimations of his feelings about the group? Three decades on, Cahoots can be heard afresh as the sound of The Band continuing the process that Stage Fright had begun: adjusting to a modern world in which they didn’t belong.
Barney Hoskyns, Gadfly Online, March / April 2001

2007 NOTE:

My opinion doesn’t shift much, but you always notice stuff again. Like Rick’s bass sound throughout is great. That several songs are half good. Volcano sounds as if it’s really going somewhere, but the chorus doesn’t live up to it. That Levon’s struggling so hard to get through River Hymn, and probably Richard or Rick should have sung it.

The lyrics are a problem, and the remaster outtakes show that it was complete madness to leave Bessie Smith off. A lot of the problem is it sounds as if Robbie was squeezing the songs out without much inspiration.

There’s also context. In that same autumn of 1971, the competitors on our turntable were Tupelo Honey, What’s Going On and the Link Wray Polydor album – all are vastly better than Cahoots. In the case of Tupelo Honey and Link Wray, the songs were coming from the same kind of area, but were simply better songs. (Feb 07)

50th Anniversary Edition 2021

The first three The Band box sets were about striving to recreate the albums with authenticity. On Cahoots, the considerably less-rated one, they decided to go for it and start from scratch on the original tapes.

Box set front image

The Box Set edition is beautifully packaged, down to the stippled paper on the cover, the book, the lithographs. As on the original Music From Big Pink, there is no lettering on the sleeve (unlike the CD and LP). However, apart from the 5.1 mix on the Blu-ray, it adds no new music to the two CD set.

sticker on the shrink wrap

ONLINE AD:
Interestingly, for the stereo mix, Bob Clearmountain was told to “transform” the original mixes based on what was lacking. He says: “Robbie told me, ‘Just think of the original mixes as rough mixes. Pretty much don’t pay attention to the mixes themselves’”. Robertson concurs: ““I told Bob, ‘There are no rules. So, every mix we do, I want to start from scratch. I don’t even want to listen to the original. I want to listen to the way we hear it now and be fearless and experimental with it”.

The 2 CD set came out on 10 December 2021. The deluxe box set was due the same day, but was put back until late January 2022. I’d ordered the box set, but couldn’t wait.

The first impression was much more urgency and presence. The mix sounds richer, fuller but somehow all the vocals sound more committed and powerful. It is indeed a great improvement.

Robbie Robertson: I like this much more now as a record. When Cahoots came out, I understood there was something lost in translation. I think now I understood it better and consequently I think what we’ve done with it is such an improvement. This is what I really meant.
Sleeve notes to reissue

I agree absolutely. It is a major improvement. It’s back to those 1982 ads for CD, a veil has been lifted from over the music.

The bonus tracks are the same as on the previous remastered version, but remixed along with the rest of the album … except for Bessie Smith.

1 Life Is A Carnival (Danko-Helm – Robertson)
2 When I Paint My Masterpiece (Bob Dylan)
3 Last of The Blacksmiths (Robertson)
4 Where Do We Go From Here? (Robertson)
5 4% Pantomime (J.R. Robertson / Van Morrison)
6 Shoot Out In Chinatown (Robertson)
7 The Moon Struck One (Robertson)
8 Thinkin’ Out Loud (Robertson)
9 Smoke Signal (Robertson)
10 Volcano (Robertson)
11 The River Hymn (Robertson)
12 Endless Highway (Early studio take, 2021 mix) (Robertson)
13 When I Paint My Masterpiece (Alternate take, 2021 mix) (Bob Dylan)
14 4% Pantomime (Takes 1 & 2) (J.R. Robertson / Van Morrison)
15 Don’t Do It (Outtake – Studio version 2021 mix) (Holland-Dozier-Holland)
16 Bessie Smith (outtake) (Rick Danko- Robbie Robertson)

The additional live CD is Paris, May 1971 and is labelled ‘Bootleg. Partial concert’

CD 2: Paris bootleg

It was recorded shortly before The Royal Albert Hall show in June 1971, which had appeared as a bonus track on the Stage Fright 50th Anniversary. The set list is identical to the second part of the Royal Albert Hall show, except it includes the Slippin’ and Slidin’ encore that was cut from the Royal Albert Hall CD (but was played on the night). There are no songs fromCahoots, yet to be released. There are three bonus tracks, instrumental versions.

The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show
We Can Talk
Lovin’ You Is Sweeter Than Ever
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
Across The Great Divide
The Unfaithful Servant
Don’t Do It
The Genetic Method
Chest Fever
Rag Mama Rag
Slippin’ and Slidin’
Life Is A Carnival (instrumental) BONUS TRACK
Volcano (instrumental) BONUS TRACK
Thinkin’ Out Loud (Stripped Down mix) BONUS TRACK
Paris Olympia 25 May 1971: 50th Anniversary edition CD2

The liner notes say that Robbie thought Paris was a particularly good show (25th May), and that the tape was a 1/4″ tape recorded by French radio. Only the second half survives, and as the notes say, every night had an identical track list. It’s a bit pointless given Royal Albert Hall in better quality, but it shows the paucity of available material.

The instrumental versions of Life Is A Carnival and Volcano are just the tracks without vocal. Thinkin’ Out Loud stripped down is revealing though.

You get the 7″ single of Life Is A Carnival / The Moon Struck One in the box set, and it is a facsimile of the Japanese release, so like the original, it contains a lyric sheet. Given that The Moon Struck One is ruined by the lyric, one has to consider whether this was a wise idea. There are other European picture sleeves without lyric sheets.

Rob Bowman’s sleeve notes for the new edition point out the issues with Albert Grossman’s new studio, which was unfinished and part of the task was ironing out the problems with the studio while recording.

Rob Bowman: What Bob Clearmountain has done, simply affords greater clarity to the mix by adjusting dynamic levels and repositioning various instruments in the sound box. He also routinely adds more definition and punch to the drums and bass and occasionally ducks a guitar or organ part under the vocal when they were masking a particular word.

Bowman also points out that Garth Hudson plays piano more on this album than any other, because he loved the sound of the Bosendorfer grand piano in the new studio.

Blu ray

Blu ray menu on screen

Dolby Atmos or DTS-HD 5.1, both in 96 KHz / 24 bit resolution. I listened in the latter. The trouble as ever in comparing 5.1 and the CD / LP is that it’s played through a different system, so different speakers and amplification. I have an MK surround system I bought many years ago, and my main aim was good bass guitar. Most cheaper surround systems think of the bass speaker as explosions and bangs and I went through two systems before finding the MK bass. It renders bass guitar better than my hi-fi speakers.

Going back to first hearing Cahoots at a friend’s house, and he had really good speakers and amp, I remember thinking, ‘This is Rick Danko’s album’ because the bass playing stands out as so brilliant throughout. That’s even more evident on the remix in 5.1. I remember reading years ago that Robbie and Rick put in the most hours on the album too.

The blu ray is the best version without doubt. They haven’t played about overly with placing either. As Rob Bowman’s liner notes point out, you’re smack dab in the middle of The Band. It’s also more revealing, and while I always thought that the bonus Endless Highway and Don’t Do It were not a serious final attempt at the songs, it’s obvious on the Blu ray.

The remixes (CD and Blu-ray)

The CD / single / blu ray container sleeve

Life Is A Carnival

Rob Bowman quotes Bob Clearmountain and it shows the sort of detail that went into the remix.

Bob Clearmountain: The drum sounds were really odd. On Life Is A Carnival, you could her that Levon was playing this off beat tom-tom, but there wasn’t a tom-tom track. You could hear it in the leakage on the other drum tracks. It was way off in the background, so we isolated it, and triggered a tom-tom sample off of exactly what he played. It’s identical to what he played, but now you can really hear it. I thought it was such a little cool part that he was playing, and it was a shame that it was buried on the original. Why didn’t someone put up a mic? I really had to dig sounds out and figure what their intention was, what they were trying to play that wasn’t captured on the recording. The recording was pretty rough, but the music as there.

The bass guitar is not only even more prominent, but you can hear how central Rick Danko’s part is to the song. Robbie’s guitar sounds grungier in the solos.

It was always the best song. It improves most because it’s the best to start with.

When I Paint My Masterpiece

Beautifully cinematic with Garth Hudson’s accordion taking much of the space behind the listeners on the back speakers. Levon’s vocal rings out.

They were right to place the two best songs first, and again they polish it up best too.

Last of The Blacksmiths

On the remasters, CD and Blu ray, what stands out is that the playing sounds so rich and engrossing, that it papers over all the cracks in what is intrinsically a mediocre song.If I’d heard it like this back in 1971, I probably wouldn’t have noticed the faults. Bowman quotes Robbie on the instrumental interlude where Robbie’s guitar and Garth’s saxophone work in tandem. Robbie called it ‘elephant cry horns.’ The song was always off-kilter, an experimental oddity. The remix improvs it.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Is one of the two most radically altered tracks. The big change is the Na-na-na vocal ending. They used Na-na-na three times on the album, perhaps seeking the quality of the Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.

What Clearmontain has done is to repeat the last three part harmony vocal, and add it to the end shorn of backing. It’s startling, and a better idea than what they did in 1971.

Bob Clearmountain: On the multi-track they had done an edit where it just stops. I thought this would be interesting if the band just stopped and you just kept the vocals. It’s kind of like a statement, ‘We’ve come this far. Where do we go from here?’ … it’s one of my favourites.

That takes us into the radical Giles Martin remix area on The Beatles LOVE. Robbie was right to give him his head to work at that level.

4% Pantomime

We get Na na na again . Bowman points out that Levon’s autobiography credits Richard with drums on the track. They found this was obviously “askew” (wrong?) as the master tapes made it clear that Levon was playing drums while Richard was playing piano and singing just a few feet from Van Morrison.

Shoot Out In Chinatown

La-La-La this time. I don’t know why I’d not noticed this before. This is the second most altered song. It sounds different from the outset. Robbie’s guitar has added backward reverb and fades in. The reverb is applied after every verse. Clarmountain also took a bit of vocal from the end and addd them to the verse transitions. He also played with Garth’s marimba sound on the organ.

No one says this, but effectively I find the “Fu Manchu” effect is much diluted.

The Moon Struck One

This is the one I’d love to have heard a totally instrumental version of, because in spite of the praise lavished in the melody I remain firm in my conviction that this is the worst lyric Robbie Robertson has ever produced. I still dislike it. I even find Richard Manuel’s voice irritates me because it’s burdened with that lyric. Hearing it even more clearly is worse. I listened to Richard singing … noonday sun … and think that could really have done with Carl Wilson, Al Jardine and Mike Love adding to the lines at the end. With a touch of Beach Boys, it might have worked better.

Garth’s organ was tweaked by Clearmountain, by feeding it through a Leslie speaker simulator with added reverb to mellow down what they perceived as harshness. Clearmountain wanted to replace Garth’s solo with one from a different take which was more exciting, but Robbie vetoed it, explaining he wanted a dark mood rather than a dramatic one. Behind verse three (I was vacant …) Clearmountain dropped out some instruments to gain clarity.

Robbie has restated that it’s based on Truffaut’s Jules et Jim, and that Richard is narrating the story about his friends Julie and Little John Tyler.

Rob Bowman: While it would be hard to imagine a listener not being moved by the lyrics, Richard’s pained vocal and Garth’s somber organ struck particularly close to the heart for Eric Clapton. …

(See above for the full Rolling Stone Clapton quote)

Really Rob, really? We have to agree to disagree. This is one listener who is moved to incredulity followed by disbelieving laughter. I’ll repeat what’s typed above:

She fell down to her knees
And the tears did fly
Little John was stung by a snake, over by the lake
And it looked like he was really really hurt
He was lying in the dirt,

Can anyone defend that as a lyric? I believe Robbie Robertson stands as one of the greatest crafters of a rock lyric … along with Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young. (A lot of Canadians there!) He also works on polishing at a Paul Simon / Leonard Cohen level of care. However, there are bits of Shakespeare in Henry VI – Part one and Titus Andronicus that are pretty poor too. It happens to the best of them. It happened to Bob Dylan for an entire album (Saved) which is far worse lyrically than this.

I’ve had my say on the lyric for the many years the beginning of this article was on The Band original website.

BOOKLET PROBLEMS …

. There must be an error in the sleeve notes here. While discussing the Moon Struck One, the page ends.

“it’s …”

and the next page starts “

Having never been mixed for release in 1971 …

which surely refers to Endless Highway which continues in the paragraph. This figures because there are no notes on Volcano or The River Hymn. So how did they lose a page? The US edition has an extra column on the page, so in fact they lost just a column. My copy is ‘Made in the EU’ and somehow they opened the base design files and screwed it right up.

Gallery – click to enlarge

Thinkin’ Out Loud

This song has been the surprising ear worm from the remasters. It also has a “stripped down mix” on CD2 (Live in Paris) where Bob Clearmountain was allowed to rethink it entirely (out loud?)

This is another one where the remastering exercise rewrites the accepted credits. It turns out that Richard is drumming. Garth is playing piano. Rick Danko is playing acoustic guitar, Robbie electric guitar and that Levon is playing upright bass. There was one in the studio and Levon was messing around with it and they decided to use it. Robbie told Rob Bowman in 2021 that they had to get the track done ‘before Levon’s fingers got too sore.’ That’s the trouble with playing bass if you haven’t developed pads on your fingertips!

The most distinctive part is Richard playing slide guitar, on one of Robbie’s guitars with he strings raised for slide. Robbie says that until he started plying it, none of them had any ida that Richard could play slide guitar.

Smoke Signal

The guitar part is absolutely stunning. The sleeve notes say it’s even better on the Dolby 7.1 Atmos mix (I only have five speakers). Rob Bowman says Cleamountain got really creative, spinning the guitar solo around the room in a way that will make you dizzy with joy. It’s Garth playing the boogie piano part. The song, like Volcano, featured on live shows.

Volcano

No notes. It says earlier that Garth is on piano. I thought the mix was getting messier and more confused here. Maybe they’re lost somewhere else between the US and EU versions of Rob Bowman’s notes.

This is the one where in the original review that Rick’s vocal sounded too sharp and cold and bright. Not so here. The wonder is that it’s still the same Rick Danko vocal but it sounds so much better on the remix. Garth’s sax is another notable improvement.

The River Hymn

No notes on my copy, but we knew that Garth played piano at the start (which is obvious). The backing chorus is muted and on the rear speakers on the 5.1 mix. I think I’d have mixed them up. As it always was, this was straining so hard to be a King Harvest or The Rumor and failing.

Fortunately Dag Braathen posted the missing page from my ‘Made in EU’ copy on Music From The Band.

The notes by Rob Bowman clear up a lot of mystery. Garth plays the introductory piano. Robbie had asked him to play it in hymn like mode and expressing both joy and reverence. That’s a separate recording grafted onto the beginning of the song. Then Garth switches to organ. It was assumed by me (and most others) that Richard played piano. Not so. It’s Robbie on piano. Richard is on drums, and Levon plays mandolin which has been lifted in this remix by Clearmountain. He quotes Robbie:

Robbie Robertson: The mandolin plays the part that it was supposed to play, that we lost in the original mixes. There was so much we lost in the original mixes, just because of what was possible where we were doing it.

Clearmountain also says that unusually for Levon, he chose to overdub most of the vocal part. They ran out of tracks so Robbie’s piano only has one mic, not the preferred two.

Endless Highway (bonus)

It’s described as an early studio take, remixed in 2021. It’s sketchy, really piano, bass and drums with odd snatches of muted guitar. This was definitely not a serious attempt at a final cut. Rick Danko’s bass guitar is the lead instrument. Clearmountain says he cut and pasted bits around in the song. Whatever, it sounds weedy next to live versions.

When I Paint My Masterpiece

An alternate, weaker version proves thy knew which was the best take.

4% Pantomime

It adds an incomplete start with slightly different lyrics. The song was always about atmosphere, and I had this on replay for half an hour doing something else, and the lurching feel of making it up as you go along really grows. Highly enjoyable. And I loved Van’s chatter, and the verse about an Italian girl taking him to her family. Van goes right into his onstage scat singing style.

Don’t Do It

Outake, studio version. Vastly inferior to the later live versions. They’d been playing it live. Drums are great though. The Band always did this well, but never as well as Marvin Gaye or as energetically as The Who (one of the great Keith Moon moments) or Rod Stewart and Julie Driscoll with Steampacket. It got rejected for Cahoots because of its rhythmic similarity to Life Is A Carnival. In The Band’s defence they took a new look at it. It’s much more languid and laid back, but lacks the impassioned vocal. I think it ‘lacks soul.’

Bessie Smith

Probably recorded after The Band and before Stage Fright it says, which is the third attribution the song has had over the years. A better song than four fifths of the album.

Reviews of the 2021 remaster …

They’re varied.

It’s well past time for you all to stop flipping off The Band’s fourth in the way you hae done for (gasp) half century now. This is a new remix with new mastering, and as usual that means there are things you’ll like better, and things you’ll not like as much. The Klaxon like harshness is nearly gone … and there’s many a little flourish you’ve not heard before. On the other hand the mix is very different in some spots and your mileage may vary. FIVE STARS *****
Mike Fornatale, Shindig, #123, JANUARY 2022

I SHALL BE RE-RELEASED
After three straight aces … Robertson’s writing had given way to a litany of loss and surrealistic resignation, a “tinge of extinction” as Jon Landua called it in Rolling Stone …
This 50 th Anniversary Edition affirms the underrated triumph in Cahoots – a gripping tale of long-haul road dogs struggling with adulthood and the steep price of recklessness – wile the highs are as good as anything on the first three albums. Life is A Carnival remains a jubilant entry, propelled by Allen Toussaint’s fleet of street parade horns. Helm carries Dylan’s contribution, When I Paint My Masterpiece, in a no surrender sandpaper howl, bouyed by Garth Hudson’s cantina-rapture accordion. The Moon Struck One, meanwhile in its grace and tragedy, is Robertson’s greatest ballad, sung by Richard Manuel with breathtaking heartache … it’s risky business messing with the original text. But for Cahoots, misunderstood for so long, it feels like another lease on life. FOUR STAR ****
David Fricke, Mojo #339, FEBRUARY 2022

I have to intervene there. It is NOT Robertson’s greatest ballad … try It Makes No Difference for starters. The point is that in contrast to what Mr Fricke says, the one thing they can’t mess with is the original text, i.e. the words. However beautifully Garth plays (and it’s more obvious now) and how truly moving Richard Manuel’s voice is, you can’t get over the abysmal lyrics. Anyone who listens to the forced and clumsy words with attention will have their mind diverted from the beauty of the melody or the skill of the performers.

RECORD COLLECTOR award it a long full page review … then give it two stars.

Cahoots is not entirely devoid of charm, and arguably stands up well against synchroneous releases from some of The Band’s contemporaries, notably The Byrds who released two uninspiring albums (Byrdmaniax and Farther Along) the same year …
… various members try and fail miserably to locate profundity down dead-end streets. Something like Where Do We Go From Here still sounds about as convincing as Mike Love’s eco-misteps on the early 70s Beach Boys albums … Elsewhere there are brief glimpses of the old magic – a swooning melody beneath Hudson’s twinkling fingers on The Moon Struck One, the earthy R&B of Last of The Blacksmiths, and the explosive brass injection on Volcano – which momentarily capture some youthful exuberance. Buch much of the material is beyond pedestrian … But ultimately, despite consummate performances and arrangements, Cahoots is let down more by the weakness of the compositions than by lacklustre performances or sloppy musicianship. In fact, despite the inner turmoil, the performances are exemplary. It was the songwriting that was sloppy. TWO STARS **
Johnnie Johnstone, Group Therapy in Record Collector, #527, JANUARY 2022

Unhappy with the finished results himself, Robbie Robertson has enlisted Bob Clearmountain to give the recording more “space” and “clarity” and it especially reaps rewards on the woozy duet 4% Pantomime Robertson’s narratives on the likes of Shoot Out in Chinatown and Last of The Blacksmiths in particular have a filmic quality but a handful of tracks still feel suspiciously like placeholders awaiting replacement by more robust material.
7/10 Extras 6/10
Terry Staunton, Uncut, #297, February 2022

Not only did they realize Cahoots was a flop at the time, but they never forgot it. Helm barely mentions it in his memoir, This Wheel’s on Fire, and Robertson also dismisses it succinctly in his memoir, Testimony. But there’s an upside: Because it’s not a sacred text like Big Pink and The Band, this box set can take a few liberties with the recordings and even revive that sense of experimentation that was supposed to animate the original sessions. Whereas the first installments in this reissue series took pains in their remastering, Robertson and Bob Clearmountain cut loose. They take out instruments in order to declutter the arrangements and let the songs breathe a little more, bringing out the lovely sustain of the piano on “Last of the Blacksmiths” and highlighting Helm’s tom-tom rhythm to make “Life Is a Carnival” just a little funkier. They even add a few new parts, such as the new outro on “Where Do We Go From Here” and a reworked intro to “Shootout in Chinatown.” This kind of thing can raise some alarms, especially when the original mix is not included in the box set, but really, what’s the harm? These changes nudge the album in the direction of Big Pink and The Band and undercut some of its sappy nostalgia. This version sounds much livelier, putting more emphasis on Hudson’s contributions. Rating: 5.8
Stephen M. Deusner, Pitchfork, online 15 December 2021

THE REVILED ALBUMS ARE (so far) …

Beatles For Sale – The Beatles
Their Satanic Majesties Request … The Rolling Stones
Speedway (and Elvis film music) – Elvis Presley
Electric Mud– Muddy Waters
3614 Jackson Highway – Cher (plus the bonus tracks)
Let It Be – The Beatles
Self Portrait – Bob Dylan
Byrdmaniax – The Byrds
Cahoots – The Band
Carl and The Passions- So Tough! – The Beach Boys
The London Chuck Berry Sessions – Chuck Berry
Wild Life – Wings
Sometime in New York City – John and Yoko / Elephant’s Memory
Recall The Beginning: A Journey From Eden … The Steve Miller Band
Hard Nose The Highway … Van Morrison
Chicago III … Chicago
Berlin– Lou Reed
Pinups – David Bowie
There’s One In Every Crowd – Eric Clapton
I Want You – Marvin Gaye
Love At The Greek – Neil Diamond
Death of A Ladies’ Man – Leonard Cohen
Shakedown Street – The Grateful Dead
Born Again – Randy Newman
Mingus – Joni Mitchell
One Trick Pony – Paul Simon
Everybody’s Rockin’ – Neil Young  
American Dream – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Jefferson Airplane – Jefferson Airplane (1989)
Human Touch – Bruce Springsteen
Latest Record Project Volume1… Van Morrison

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