Thursday, 11 August 2011

How To Become Clairvoyant

How to Become Clairvoyant is the new solo album from Robbie Robertson, it's been a long time between drinks, more than a decade to be precise. Some people would know Robertson from his work with The Band, others from his work scoring films for Martin Scorsese. Robbie has released few solo albums since the days of The Band preferring to concentrate on film work, never the most striking of vocalists there is something about his vocals on this record that adds to the sentiment of the album. Robbie as a songwriter to me was always at his best when in a refelctive and nostalgic frame of mind, and that is partly what makes this album a great listen. It's also the first time I've heard him in such and open and honest frame of mind with his songwriting.

Musically we see him in a familar setting, a little funky and bluesy in parts, there are some interesting guest appearances from pedal steel virtuoso Robert Randolph, vocalist Angela McCluskey, Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor and Steve Winwood. Eric Clapton co wrote three of the tracks on the album and plays on about half the songs, and Clapton influence is keenly felt throughout the album. Not that it ever appears to drift towards the middle of the road/easy listening landscape that Clapton drifted off to. Robertson has never really appears comfortable as the stand alone lead guitarist, always seeming to prefer a foil, his own playing is tasteful without dominating each song.

The opening track Straight Down The Line starts the trip down memory lane with Robertson reflecting "From the chitlin circuit to the Peppermint Lounge, been run off more than once for goin underground". I met an old bluesman with a walking cane, he wore a stripe suit and used someone else's name". The old bluesman he speaks of was Sonny Boy Williamson who Roberston met in 1965 shortly before Williamson's death.

On When The Night Was Young he talks about his early days on the road travelling through the American south sharing the road with "cardsharks and grifters, tent evengelists and Luke The Drifter". He Don't Live Here No More relives Robertsons wasted period after the demise of The Band at the end of 1976, where he and Scorses were holed up in L.A doing prodigious amounts of cocaine. The autobiographical This is Where I Get Off hints at regret over how The Band ended. On Axman Robbie pays tribute to some of the legendary guitarists who inspired him.

How to Become Clairvoyant is a great album, it's nostalgic without being maudlin, it's lyrically and musically sharp and shows that Robbie Roberston has lost none of his zest for looking over his shoulder nor has he lost that smouldering guitar sound that bowled me over as a teenager.


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