How to Become Clairvoyant
First Appeared in The Music Box, October 2011, Volume 18, #7
Written by John Metzger
Tue October 25, 2011, 05:30 AM CDT
With only a handful of solo records to his name, it is safe to say that Robbie Robertson has been remarkably quiet since The Band dissolved amidst the guest-laden backdrop of The Last Waltz. His public performances have been nearly nonexistent, too. Not that he hasnít been busy ó for a long time, now, Robertson has been filling his days scoring films and serving as a curator for the expansion of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. For a guy who once was so prolific, though, it is strange to consider how little he has had to say over the past 35 years.
Robertson last surfaced in 1998 when he released Contact from the Underworld of Redboy. The dance grooves and atmospheric refrains of the set were a logical extension of his work with Daniel Lanois during the previous decade. The real story, though was that Contact from the Underworld of Redboy expanded upon his roots-oriented soundtrack Music for the Native Americans. It immediately was apparent that Robertson was searching for something, and he undoubtedly was looking to gain a better understanding of his own psyche.
On his latest disc How to Become Clairvoyant, Robertson continues to dig through his past on a quest to find some answers. This time, his lyrics have turned strikingly more personal. Itís almost as if Robertson reached some kind of psychological breakthrough that allowed him to begin to wade through his experiences in a public forum. A sizable portion of How to Become Clairvoyant addresses Robertsonís life, including his days with The Band ó from its idealistic beginning (When the Night Was Young) to the overindulgence that eventually sapped the groupís creativity and led to its demise (This Is Where I Get Off).
Over the course of How to Become Clairvoyant, Robertson connects past with present, while shrewdly linking the problems that dogged his career with those that sent his generation adrift. He doesnít offer any answers, and he doesnít show signs of regret. Instead, an air of sorrowful acceptance permeates the affair. Things happened ó to him, his band, and his country ó and despite the tragedies that have unfolded over the years, Robertson seems to understand his fate.
To craft How to Become Clairvoyant, Robertson arrived at the recording studio armed with a heavy arsenal of special guests. Trent Reznor, Rocco DeLuca, Robert Randolph, Tom Morello, Steve Winwood, and Eric Clapton are among the many artists who leant their assistance to the project. Nevertheless, in spite of all the high-profile names that are attached to the endeavor, their contributions are woven so tightly into the fabric of the music that they largely slip into the background. Itís not that the accents of organ or the stabs of guitar arenít noticeable. They simply fit so well within the arrangements that they become one with the ebb and flow of the endeavor.
In fact, Clapton is the only person whose presence is felt overtly on How to Become Clairvoyant. Not surprisingly, he served as the impetus for the project, which evolved from an unplanned recording session. Clapton ó who in the late 1960s had a strong desire to join The Band ó co-wrote several songs with Robertson. The duo sings Fear of Falling as a duet ó the tune easily could be mistaken for an outtake from Claptonís Pilgrim ó and on tracks like This Is Where I Get Off and The Right Mistake, their guitars poke and prod at the melody until they become skillfully tangled.
For the record, although there are moments that certainly are reminiscent of Robertsonís work with The Band, How to Become Clairvoyant is not a roots-oriented throwback to another era. Awash in the same kinds of atmospheric textures that Daniel Lanois applied to Robertsonís self-titled debut, the set feels distinctively more modern. The heavy soulfulness of The Right Mistake as well as the Eastern-tinged instrumental Tango with Django might be too much for some fans of The Band to handle. However, peering beneath the shimmering exterior of the arrangements, one is likely to find that How to Become Clairvoyant is the most honest, heartfelt, and melodic effort that Robertson has constructed in a long, long time.
Of Further Interest...
How to Become Clairvoyant is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2011 The Music Box