Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Robbie Robertson's new release

How To Become Clairvoyant is the fifth solo release by Robbie Robertson, coming 13 years since his last release (and I thought Jeff Beck waited a long time between recordings). I remember being really knocked out by Robertson's first solo album in 1987, so when I first heard about this one, my antennae twiggled. Then I learned that it is a collaboration with Eric Clapton, which further tweaked my interest.

I've been quite pleased with it. The songs are all very good, though none of them jump out at you as an instant classic like "Cripple Creek" or "The Weight" from his years in The Band.

Robertson's vocals are... what should I say? – limited? – but they work. He sometimes treads close to pretentiousness, but usually he manages to be emotionally expressive, and he has an excellent sense of phrasing and rhythm.

Sonically the recording is brilliant. It's sort of a combination of raw, lo-fi electric guitars, nylon-string acoustics, and Hammond B-3, mixed up with more modern electronic sounds here and there. Everything sounds organic and loose, but there are all sorts of interesting layers and interlocking bits of sound, in a way that reminds me of the late Lowell George's production work with his band Little Feat. I haven't been as impressed with the production of a recording in a long time like I have been with this.

Clapton is all over the record, but in an understated way for the most part, except for where he and Robertson trade off lead vocals on the song "Fear of Falling." He co-wrote some of the material, plays guitar and sings backup on many of the tunes. It's wonderful to hear Clapton involved with something as creative as this.

Steve Winwood also appears on organ. Bass and drums are mostly provided by Pino Palladino and Ian Thomas, There are also appearances by Robert Randolph, Tom Morello, Trent Reznor, Angela McClusky, Jim Keltner, and others.

There's a nice little writeup about the disk at NPR's Music's First Listen site.