It’s been more than a decade since Robbie Robertson has issued a solo record, and closer to two since he offered a pop/rock disc. How to Become Clairvoyant is unique in the Robertson catalog in that it deals with new topics. “When the Night Was Young” is a soulful tale about The Band when it was still called the Hawks and was grinding it out on the road. Robertson’s tasty and perfectly placed guitar notes propel the song, and as on most cuts, he gets help from a friend – in this case an amazing vocal assist from Angela McCluskey. With the help of old buddy Eric Clapton, he addresses his departure from The Band on “This Is Where I Get Off.” He and Clapton, who appears on seven cuts and co-wrote a couple with Robertson, sound joined at the hip in terms of their playing; their solos glide together seamlessly, adding to the inherent soul of each song. Robertson’s departure from the group has been addressed in various forums and books, and his lyrical take here won’t surprise anyone familiar with the situation.
Robertson doesn’t have a classic rock-and-roll voice, but his has a soulful, lived-in quality that perfectly fits the thoughtfulness of these songs. Other players here are similarly plugged in to the subtlety of Robertson’s songs; Robert Randolph supplies perfect accompaniment on a couple, Steve Winwood joins Clapton on several, and Pino Palladino’s steady bass and the drumming of Ian Thomas lend perfect complement.
It’s become fashionable in some circles to blame Robertson for the breakup of The Band, but his solo work has always been more than solid and this will fit onto plenty of “best of” lists for 2011.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s June ’11 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.