Robbie Robertson - Contact from the Underworld of Redboy

Robbie Robertson
Contact from the Underworld of Redboy

First Appeared in The Music Box, March 1999, Volume 6, #3

Written by John Metzger


Since leaving The Band, Robbie Robertson has taken his time in creating his atmospheric solo albums, allowing them to slowly ripen to maturity. On Contact from the Underworld of Redboy, he continues the exploration of his Native American roots, a journey that he first began on his 1994 soundtrack effort Music for Native Americans. Robertson, whose mother is of Mohawk descent, spent his childhood summers on a reservation. Consequently, Contact from the Underworld of Redboy is a deeply personal journey that won't appeal to everyone at least not immediately.

Nevertheless, for those who are fans of Robertson's solo releases or at least have a taste for eclectic music, give this one a listen. He employed Howie B, straight from his work on U2's Pop, to mix and produce several of the tracks on Contact from the Underworld of Redboy. Robertson's songs draw a keen link between present musical styles and an ancient spiritual calling. The result is a swirling panorama of sound, designed to evoke a trance-like state, while drawing attention to the plight of Native Americans.

On The Sound is Fading, Robertson samples a 1942 Library of Congress vocal recording and overlays it with a dissonant blast of keyboards and guitar. The result is a track that brilliantly captures the loss of a culture in the melting pot of today's vapid society, where conformity is the guiding rule.

Sacrifice is centered around the voice of activist Leonard Peltier as he describes the events surrounding his imprisonment. Robertson intermixes Peltier's story with a hypnotic and haunting blend of sounds as well as his own lyrics, which draw parallels between the dysfunctional societal need to conform and the unfortunate plight of Peltier. The result is a captivating and bone-chilling account based upon a story that is too compelling to not include here:  Peltier has been imprisoned since 1976, after a shootout at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota between FBI agents and members of the American Indian Movement. Two FBI agents and one Native American were killed. Three people, including Peltier, were arrested, but his co-defendants were found not guilty by reason of self-defense. Peltier was tried separately and found guilty, despite the prosecution's acknowledgment that not only did they not know who killed the FBI agents, but they also didn't know if Peltier was even involved. It's a sad story of injustice that has persisted for more than 22 years.

On Making a Noise, Robertson chants, "You can bet your ass I won't go quietly," and indeed he doesn't. Instead, throughout Contact from the Underworld of Redboy, Robertson firmly plants his feet and thrusts Native American issues and culture into the spotlight. The result is a brilliant combination of mesmerizing, percussive grooves that draw upon upon a deeply-rooted spiritual essence. You wouldn't expect less from Robertson, nor should you. starstarstarstar


Of Further Interest...

Cheb i Sabbah - Devotion

Indigo Girls - Shaming of the Sun

David Bowie - Station to Station: Deluxe Edition


Contact from the Underworld of Redboy is available
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!


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