Most of us know all these songs so well that we can likely sing many of them word for word. Yes, The Weight Band on this outing is a cover band but one of the first order, with members having played in The Band or in the Levon Helm Band, or both. Instrumentally, they can replicate The Band sound very well. They strive to do the same vocally and while, against almost any other measure, they hold up quite well; no three voices are quite like Helm, Danko, and Manuel. Nonetheless, they cannot be faulted for trying. The torch was long passed to them by Levon Helm. The Weight Band is the most legitimate band to keep the spirit of Americana/Roots Rock alive for audiences of all ages. After all it’s been more than 50 years now since The Basement Tapes and Music from Big Pink transformed the sound of rock music in the late ‘60s. This music is timeless as The Weight Band proves with Acoustic Live-Big Pink & The Levon Helm Studios.
The Weight Band is led by Jim Weider, a 15-year former member of The Band and the Levon Helm Band. Weider was inspired by Helm to carry on the musical legacy of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame group, forming this group in Levon’s Woodstock barn in 2013. Since then, they have released one studio album of original material, 2018’s World Gone Mad (covered on these pages) while performing globally- honoring the legacy of The Band while keeping the sound vibrant with new songs of their own.
On October 25th, 2019, The Weight Band went into Big Pink, yes that Big Pink West Saugerties, NY that was home to the early days of Bob Dylan collaborating with The Band and home to The Basement Tapes and the album that bears its name and picture, to rehearse for an acoustic show at Levon Helm Studios the next evening. According to Weider, “We just ran through the songs once, and if the material needed more time, we gave it. We picked five songs recorded during that rehearsal and six songs we recorded during the show the following night. That’s what Acoustic Live is – all “Live” no overdubs on vocals or solos. Kenny Kosek was a special guest on violin. The songs are stripped down, bare bones. That is what you hear, nothing can be hidden during unplugged sessions- it was such a fun night we thought we would share a few songs from it.”
Fittingly they begin with two originally recorded at Big Pink, “Ain’t No More Caine” and “Bessie Smith.” Then, they do one from Jerry Garcia’s first solo album “Deal,” one of the few non-Band numbers in this set. “Rockin’ Chair” and “King Harvest” are from the “Brown” album while “Caledonia Mission” is the lone representative from Music from Big Pink. Members of The Band backed Dylan for years so it’s not surprising to hear a rousing take on “Highway 61.” Weider, of course, replaced Robbie Robertson as the guitarist and his first of three albums with The Band was Jericho, for which he wrote the great tune “Remedy,” performed here as well as “Common Man,” a tune he wrote with Levon and Joe Flood. It was originally intended for that album but didn’t make the cut, instead appearing on The Weight Band’s 2018 World Gone Mad. The set closes with one Levon often performed with his various bands, Chuck Willis’ “What Am I Living For.”
The Weight has the same instrumental configuration as their forbears – two keyboardists, guitarist, bassist, and drummer without switching of instruments and Garth Hudson’s occasional saxophones. All five members sing. The other members beyond Weider are Michael Bram (drums & vocals) who most recently toured with Jason Mraz for seven years, and before that was a staple in the New York music scene. Career highlights include a couple of solo albums, working with Willie Nelson and recording tracks with Bob Margolin of The Last Waltz fame. Brian Mitchell (keyboards & vocals) is a current member of Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble Band and is an in-demand session musician. He has recorded and performed with Levon Helm, Bob Dylan, Al Green, B.B. King, and countless others as well as Jim Weider’s Project Percolator Band. Matt Zeiner (keyboard & vocals) began his career with Hartford’s Street Temperature band, toured with Matt “Guitar” Murphy of Blues Brothers fame and later with Dickey Betts. Albert Rogers (bass & vocals) has shared the stage with Levon Helm and Garth Hudson in The Jim Weider Band, and has also performed with Sid McGinnis, Hubert Sumlin, Jimmy Vivino, and Albert Lee, among others. Avid followers will note that Zeiner has replaced Marty Grebb who played on World Gone Mad.
As Weider pointed out, these songs are recorded live, unplugged, and unfiltered. Great songs, played by musicians who live and breathe this material hold up well as proved again here.
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