Sound — 9
With Northern Lights - Southern Cross, The Band has created a very lush, full sound different from their previous albums. A lot of this is because of their resident musical genius, Garth Hudson, who adds a number of different keyboard tracks, including organ and synthesizers, a technology which sounds surprisingly good in the context of a group known for it's rustic, country sound. The rhythm section of Levon Helm on drums and Rick Danko on bass is as tight, funky, and sweet as they ever were, and, in my opinion, are one of the best rhythm sections ever. Richard Manuel's piano playing adds another dimension and texture to the chord progressions and helps to fill out the sound more. Robbie Robertson, while he's definitely not my favorite guitarist in terms of his solos, is a fantastic guitarist when it comes to playing rhythm and fills in between vocal lines. Sonically, this album is a lot smoother and, in some respects, better than some of their earlier albums.
Lyrics — 8
In terms of lyrics, they are pretty good overall, and show that Robbie Robertson has expanded his writing style since Music From Big Pink and The Brown Album, though there are some points where the word flow is a bit odd, or Robbie just wrote some weird lyrics. A decent example of this the song Jupiter Hollow, where Robertson refers to mythology in the lyrics. Regardless, though, the lyrics always fit pretty well with the music, and Danko, Helm, and Manuel sing really well, though, sadly, his years of drug and alcohol abuse really start show in Manuel's voice. His range seems more limited when he sings lead (though he can still hit that beautiful falsetto when he sings harmonies), and his voice sounds heavier, with not as much finesse as he used to have. Despite his problems, though, Richard sings beautifully anyways, especially on Hobo Jungle and Rags and Bones. Danko sings beautifully and Helm sounds agressive, country, bluesy, and funky, just the way I like him, haha.
Overall Impression — 8
As one of the Band's final albums, it is definitely a good one, though it still can't hold a candle to their first two records, which were just absolutely amazing. The musicianship and vocal talent that defined them early in their career is still present in spades and Robertson's writing is pretty solid. For me, the three songs that are the true highlights of the album are Ophelia, Acadian Driftwood, and It Makes No Difference. All three are great songs, and I love hearing them. I do like that The Band has expanded their sound, the keyboards give the album a big, full sound, and I heard quite a bit of funk from Robertson, Danko, and Helm, which is always good. However, I don't like some of the directions Robertson has taken with writing lyrics, primarily because his lyrics don't sound as natural as they did, sometimes sounding a bit forced, and The Band is a natural unit, loose and funky. I like this album a lot, though, and if it were stolen I would buy it again.