Endless Highway: The Music of The Band – various artists
If every artist who played Bonnaroo was required to cover a song by The Band, the result would probably sound something like Endless Highway. A hickster-rock approved compilation featuring a number of the festival generation’s biggest buzz bands, and a few old favorites, Endless Highway is intended for Generations X-Y (as well as a few dads who cut their teeth on The Band during the Robbie Robertson days, had a brief affair with the Counting Crows in the early-1990s and are still hip enough to hang). And, indeed, well over half of the bands featured on Endless Highway have clocked in time at Tennessee’s great, annual gathering, from Kentucky indie rockers My Morning Jacket to surf-rock wunderkind Jack Johnson to southern jam titans Widespread Panic to fish n’ chips imports Gomez to emo-pop stalwarts Death Cab for Cutie.
And, like Bonnaroo, Endless Highway isn’t meant to be absorbed as a whole. Instead, it’s meant to be analyzed, picked apart, and played according to mood. For those looking to rock, or at least swagger, look no farther than My Morning Jacket’s on take on “It Makes No Difference,” a staple on its recent arena tour with Pearl Jam. If you’re feeling emotional about the loss of someone special, Death Cab’s cover of “Rockin’ Chair” should do the trick, while Lee Ann Womack provides a fitting soundtrack to that detour through Nashville you took en route to the roo last year.
Falling in the "we have something to prove" category, Guster open the disc with a spot-on version of the Dylan/Band collaboration “This Wheel’s on Fire,” showing off the new country-rock credibility it gained with the addition of Jo Pisapia. Similarly, Blues Traveler’s rocking take on “Rag Mama Rag” makes the best use of John Popper’s harp since “Hook.” Even Gomez, the least American group on the disc, manages to channel the whisky soaked spirit of its North American brethren.
Like any good compilation, Endless Highway also includes some legitimate ties to its source subject: Bob’s spawn Jakob Dylan pops by to interpret "Whispering Pines,” The Band’s Watkins Glen collaborators the Allman Brothers Band offer a live version of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” from 2005, and My Morning Jacket use Levon Helm’s studio to lay down its version of “It Makes No Difference.” While not a direct tie to the quintet, Johnson uses his own version of The Bandcollege buddies and occasion support players ALO—-to rework “I Shall Be Released” (a number which answers the long asked question, “what would Dylan sound like of he spent a college semester studying in Hawaii?")
But even though we evoked Bonnaroo, don’t hit some tubes before you listen to Endless Highway. The album’s liner notes are chock full of useful information, including the surprisingly hidden players who appear on each song. While you wouldn’t know if from scanning Endless Highway’s cover is that Guster summer tour mate Ray LaMontagne plays harmonica alongside his hosts, country-vet Buddy Miller supplies backing vocals on Womack’s version of “The Weight,” and Jimmy Herring actually makes his first studio appearance as a member of Widespread Panic on “Chest Fever” (which has since entered the group’s live set).
So, until Superfly finally takes me up on my idea to put Jim James, The Slip’s Brad Barr, and Levon Helm in costume and have them play Music from the Big Pink in its entirety at the Masquerade Ball, Endless Highway is the closest our generation gets to resetting the Band in the era of Bonnaroo. Hopefully, more performers will decide to travel the Endless Highway.