On his first disc since 1998’s Contact From the Underworld of RedBoy, the Band’s chief songwriter and guitarist Robbie Robertson mixes it up with the likes of Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Robert Randolph, Tom Morello and even Trent Reznor. With all but one of the tracks exceeding 4 minutes Robertson has plenty of time to weave his spellbinding tales of rock and roll as the devil’s music, "Straight Down the Line", longing for times gone by when he felt he could make a difference, "When the Night Was Young", regret for mistakes made, "This is Where I Get Off", (which features poignant lines about the end of the Band) and lost love, "She’s Not Mine". While the bulk of the songs feature a gauzy, atmospheric, mid-tempo groove that makes the disc drag a bit when heard from start to finish, "He Don’t Live Here No More", and "She’s Not Mine" rock a little harder, "Straight Down the Line" features some great guitar interplay between Robertson and Randolph and "Axman" gives Morello the spotlight for a funky guitar workout. Even with the strong cast of guests, long term pal Eric Clapton stands out with writing contributions on three cuts, lead vocals on one, "Fear of Falling", and tasty guitar licks throughout. The Clapton penned "Madame X" is a lush instrumental that recalls some of Mark Knopfler’s soundtrack work with unspecified “textures” added by Reznor. Never the strongest singer in the traditional sense, Robertson’s raspy, almost spoken vocals get plenty of help from a cast of back up vocalists including, most notably, Angela McClusky, who evokes the hipster cool of Rickie Lee Jones. With his seminal work with The Band forming a long strand in the DNA of almost all rock and roots music that followed it’s hard to avoid the inevitable comparisons between new and old. Ultimately, that is a fool’s errand with decades of exposure and thousands of listens to the classics and only a few passes through this disc. That said, these songs hit all the right sweet spots and are likely to age just as well as all those tunes from so long ago. After a couple of discs where he seemingly tried to distance himself from the Band’s legacy, it’s good to have Robbie back in the rock and roots pulpit. Smitty

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Compiled by the WYCE Journalism Club

The opinions expressed in these reviews are those of the individual volunteers that submitted the article and do not necessarily reflect the views of WYCE or GRCMC; nor its staff, donors, or affiliates.