By 1971, The Band were now a famous rock group and the members were starting to feel the pressures of fame and fortune. Having released two critically acclaimed albums initially and slightly fallen into the dreaded "third album curse" with Stage Fright, The Band had begun to lose some of the charm that made them so popular in the sixties. Richard Manuel, previously a prominent songwriter had retired from composing altogether and all the stress of bringing in new material to record had been thrust on Robbie Robertson. The Band's tight-knit relationship had begun to deteriorate and they were now recording in a full studio, having only to come in when their musicianship was required. All these factors are what made Cahoots an altogether weaker and less popular album than it's predecessors.
1) Life Is A Carnival [5/5]
Cahoots begins with a bang in the form of Life Is A Carnival, a funky rocker that remained a concert staple for The Band until The Last Waltz. Featuring some very complimentary (song-wise) horn arrangements courtesy of Allen Toussaint, Life Is A Carnival makes for a great opener for Cahoots.
2) When I Paint My Masterpiece [5/5]
With the songwriting task left to Robertson, The Band had to go elsewhere for songs, and what a better man to go to than former Band affiliate Bob Dylan. This classic song has a very European feel to it, complete with mandolin by Levon Helm and accordion by multi-instrumentalist Garth Hudson. Topped of by some haunting lyrics and great drumming by Richard Manuel, this is a definite highlight of Cahoots.
3) Last Of The Blacksmiths [4/5]
Indeed, a very strange song. The very dark tone of the song is sung in a despairing way similar to 'King Harvest (Has Surely Come)' by Richard Manuel and the piano and Rick Danko's bass really shine in this song. Last Of The Blacksmiths is very musically intriguing with plenty of crazy chord changes and a dual guitar/saxophone solo at the end.
4) Where Do We Go from Here" [4/5]
Another dark song similar to Last Of The Blacksmiths, Where Do We Go From Here" tries to revive The Band's original distinctive vocal harmonies but doesn't succeed as effectively. Still, Rick Danko's lead vocal and Garth's keyboards keep the song alive and the chorus IS kind of catchy.
5) 4% Pantomime [5/5]
Guest singer Van The Man Morrison makes a soulful appearance on this great rock song. Everybody's playing is very well on this song and Van and Richard's duet vocals make this song a sure highlight to the album. A nice break from the darkness of the previous two songs.
6) Shoot Out In Chinatown [4/5]
Reminiscent of the style of The Band's eponymous album combined with some mock-oriental instrumentation make this a decent song, but doesn't exactly have the kick that would have made it a classic. I'll admit, it IS a great song, but the mediocrity the pulled down Cahoots really shows in the missing elements.
7) The Moon Struck One [2/5]
Arguably the weakest song on the album, The Moon Struck One is a slow ballad that seems to drag on forever. Some of the lyrics and the pathetic riffery just make you want to yell "Is this all you got, Robbie"". Alas, the song does have it's moments but it just doesn't make the cut.
8) Thinkin' Out Loud [4/5]
With not much to live up to, Thinkin' Out Loud is a step up from The Moon Struck One. The manic piano, Levon's drumming, some harmony vocals led by Rick are a great addition to this song and Robbie even gets a rare guitar solo. Though not one of the best songs of Cahoots, Thinkin' Out Loud is a rather good song, especially compared to some others.
9) Smoke Signal [5/5]
Here's where things start to pick up again. Pretty much the hardest rocking song on this album, Smoke Signal features more great collective playing from everyone and Levon gives an appropriately enthusiastic lead vocal. Could be considered to be the title song, as the lyrics "young brothers joined in Cahoots" are sung here.
10) Volcano [5/5]
A prefect follow-up to Smoke Signal, Volcano is an equally rocking song that is somewhat overproduced with lots of vocal processing and a whole brass section added in. Rick's vocal is strong, assisted by the heavy processing and the collective talents of all The Band's members bring this song up to high standards.
11) The River Hymn [5/5]
This time around, The Band tried something different to close the album. After the bluesy 'King Harvest' from 'The Band' and the slow rocker 'The Rumor' from Stage Fright, Cahoots ended the album with a slow, ballad-like gospel song. Levon shines in this song with a powerful vocal and his trademark soulful drumming, the show tune-ey piano, and the choir-like harmonies towards the end all add up and close the album leaving the listener feeling good.
In conclusion, Cahoots, while not up to the high standard set by The Band's previous three album, is a very good album. The dark theme of extinction and some mediocre songs may have set the critics and many fans off from the album, but I, myself regard Cahoots as another solid hit for The Band. I'd recommend it to every Band fan out there, but not as much to non-fans or closed-minded listeners.