From its first driving percussive beats and fuzzy guitar riffs, High on the Hog soars. More than two years after Jericho, the group's impressive comeback CD, the Band still sounds gorgeously funky and unlike any other—even with the loss of two key members (Robbie Robertson quit in 1976; Richard Manuel hanged himself in 1986). Now Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Garth Hudson wear the royal mantle, and here they make music with cohesiveness and assurance that come only with maturity.
This Hog has been fattened up with delights. "Stand Up" mesmerizes with its tricky rhythms and rasping vocal harmonies. On "Back to Memphis," Hudson's elegant horns and Jim Weider's eloquent guitar underscore the simple yearning refrain—"Point my ragged shoes/ To the city of the blues/ In the mornin'." This Band also gets a little help from newer members Randy Ciarlante on drums, vocals and percussion and Richard Bell on piano as well as the late blues brother Champion Jack Dupree, who juices up "Ramble Jungle," a number he cowrote with the group. There are surprises, too, such as a gritty interpretation of En Vogue's 1992 hit "Free Your Mind."
Finally, Manuel's sweet solo "She Knows" offers up a cut of nostalgia. This expressive if despairing lament was recorded live at New York City's Lone Star Cafe less than two months before his death. It is a tribute to his gifts and a reminder that not even a band whose sound remains as robust as this can completely turn back the years. (Pyramid)