Saturday, 14 March 2020

Robbie Robertson


1. I Hear You Paint Houses
2. Once Were Brothers
3. Dead End Kid
4. Hardwired
5. Walk In Beauty Way
6. Let Love Reign
7. Shanghai Blues
8. Wandering Souls
9. Street Serenade
10. The Shadow
11. Beautiful Madness          
12. Praying For Rain
13. Remembrance                                                                          

This is an admirable 2019 album from ex-Band member and now rock royalty figure, Robbie Robertson.

I Hear You Paint Houses, written for a mobster film called The Irishman, is a magnificently rumbling, atmospheric duet with Van Morrison, with Robertson’s voice sounding old and gruff, while Morrison’s is well, Morrison. The song’s rhythm is beautifully insistent, warm and bassy. The title, gruesomely, refers to blood-spattered walls after the carrying out of a killing. The album is all about cinematic atmosphere, as the title suggests, and this is continued on the moving strains of Once Were Brothers which is sort of Tom Waits meets Mark Knopfler. There are echoes of Sting in it too. Robertson’s vocal is superbly evocative, yearning and sad and, together with a fine harmonica, makes for a great song. It was written with The Band in mind. Three of them are no longer with us. Its Civil War references hark back to The Band's late sixties/early seventies material.

Dead End Kid is muscular and shuffling, again full of feeling. It really sounds like something else but I can’t put my finger on it. It features some excellent lead guitar. There is something Jagger-esque about it. Hardwired is tough, menacing stuff, lovely and late night bassy with Robertson spitting out his vocals like an old cynical snake. This is gnarled music made by gnarled old experienced professionals who have all been there and done it. The whole album has that sort of feeling.


Walk In Beauty Way is a beautiful, contemporary-sounding duet with a female vocalist whose identity I am not sure of (Laura Satterfield I am told). The Chris Rea-ish Let Love Reign is once more superb, packed full of bluesy soul feeling. You can’t analyse this too much other than it just has a cool, effortless vibe to it that is irresistible. It reminds me of Joe Bonamassa in places. Shanghai Blues is a creeping, unnerving blues about a gangster that brings to mind Nick Cave’s Red Right Hand. Wandering Souls is a deliciously beguiling, bassy instrumental. It is really quite lovely in places, particular on Robertson's guitar parts. The seedy, urban rainy night streets atmosphere is back on the glorious, again Rea-esque Street Serenade.

The Shadow continues in the same vein and tells of Robertson’s memories of listening to the radio in the days before TV (very Morrison-esque). Orson Welles played The Shadow. Beautiful Madness is another semi-spoken gruff number that has hints of U2 in it, for me. Praying For Rain is a tough piece of bluesy mid-pace rock with environmentally-concerned lyrics while Remembrance is a moving instrumental ending to a fine, well-crafted, honest and inspiring album.