Across the Great Divide – The Band and America

Author: Barney Hoskyns (2003)

The most rewarding music biographies are always those which express a passionate interest in the subject matter. Barney Hoskyns’s portrait of the original alt-country pioneers the Band is one such. When all their contemporaries were heading east for musical inspiration in the mid-1960s, Robbie Robertson and co were heading determinedly west and south, ignoring the psychedelic revolution to revisit America ‘s rural past. In doing so,they crafted the most beautiful rock ‘n ‘roll songs ever to feature mandolins, fiddles and pump-organs.

Hoskyns relishes the task of exploring the group’s surprisingly urban roots as backing band to rockabilly pioneer Ronnie Hawkins. The story then slips into overdrive when they team up with Bob Dylan just as he is making the epochal transition from folk-hero to amphetamine-charged rock overlord. But the author’s favourite era is clearly the Band’s coming of age as a self-contained unit, when they once more redrew the whole 1960s musical landscape and sent the Stones, the Beatles and Eric Clapton scurrying almost apologetically back to their R&B roots.

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