Robbie Robertson wrote the best song of any generation of any genre. No amount of musical genius, poetry or inspiration could produce anything better than the allegorical “The Weight.” And there could be no better combination of talent to play that song than The Band.

No offense to Bob Dylan devotees who mistakenly think The Band spawned from Dylan’s greatness, but Robertson created music that got to the point with a lot fewer words and much better guitar. He was a pro with rock-a-billy pioneer Ronnie Hawkins before he ever met Dylan and was astute enough to know that country greats like Lefty Frizzell were telling stories in song (remember “Long Black Veil”?) before folkies discovered rural America.

While The Band continued in various reincarnations after Robertson’s departure in 1976, Robertson went in a very different direction, collaborating with “The Last Waltz” director Martin Scorsese in a long list of films that include “Carny,” “Raging Bull” and “Any Given Sunday.” He released a few solo albums but has stayed under the radar for too long.

This month, Robertson’s first solo album in 13 years was released. “How to Become Clairvoyant,” more than any other Robertson work, reveals his uncanny ability to deliver a message without preaching a sermon. The 12 songs on this CD sound like Robertson is taking off a lifetime of weight with grace and acceptance. He isn’t trying to top or recreate any past glory. It seems that maybe he actually wants to let it go and get on with life.

Perhaps Robertson’s most retrospective acknowledgment comes through in “This is Where I Get Off,” which alludes to leaving The Band after The Last Waltz concert. Lyrics “Walking out on the boys was never the plan We just drifted off course Couldn’t strike up the band” leave no doubt that Robertson remembers those days in the pink house but doesn’t regret taking a different road.

The song illustrates the difference between hanging onto the past and learning from it. There’s nothing more farcical than an old rock star trying to recreate the glory days. Have you ever had that experience of reconnecting with old high-school friends who haven’t changed a bit, and you leave a little sad because they haven’t changed a bit?

One of the most satisfying aspects of this CD is that Robertson, a musician who amazed me in the past, now sounds like a comforting and confirming companion who has grown up, too. (This sounds a little presumptuous, given that Robertson reached adulthood before I was born, but I’m getting there.)

Of course, it helps to share the load with someone else who’s moving forward. While Robertson has long since been on his own, none other than Eric Clapton co-wrote a couple of the songs on the new CD and plays on several. And oh, while we’re at it, let’s throw Steve Winwood into the mix to play organ on a few of the tracks. That’s good company to keep.

The CD starts with the rolling and ironic “Straight Down the Line” that proclaims “I do not play no rock ‘n’ roll” because in the early days it was the work of the devil after all. On this track Robertson deftly reminds us of his guitar prowess with intermittent riffs that paradoxically scream with submission and confession.

“When the Night Was Young” also reminds us that as we age, we don’t quite see the world the way we used to. Maybe that’s a good thing because the world isn’t quite the same anyway, and neither are we. Robertson continues to reveal his deeper perspective and empathetic acceptance with “The Right Mistake.” The guitar interaction between Robertson and Clapton on this track invites you into a wordless conversation between two old friends.

Clapton’s influence and sound can definitely be heard on “Fear of Falling,” which he co-wrote with Robertson. The vocals and acoustic guitar are unmistakably Clapton, while Robertson complements the song with understated supporting vocals and electric guitar.

Clapton takes center stage on the instrumental song “Madame X,” which he wrote alone. The track has a mystical, nostalgic, melancholic feel that can put you any place you want to be. And that’s a gift that makes me want to say thank-you to Clapton for creating the song and to Robertson for generously including it.

Robertson picks up the mood, volume and tempo with “Axman,” a collegiate nod to the guitar greats of rock and blues like Duane Allman, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Elmore James. While paying homage to these legends, Robertson shows off his right to be included on the list by interspersing old-school licks and letting loose with an extended electric solo.

I guess I should mention the title track, “How to Become Clairvoyant.” This is not a manual about having discovered the answers. Instead, Robertson makes religious, mystical and literary allusions to life’s unexpected events. Age has a way of letting us know that we never come up with the answers. But if anyone has them, Robertson lets us know that he’s willing to listen.

The CD ends with an instrumental track that compels you to stop thinking and to just listen. “Tango For Django,” of course, a reference to Django Reinhardt, offers a beautifully passionate combo of violin, cello, percussion and Robertson’s gut-string guitar.

Sometimes music doesn’t have to say anything; sometimes it can say everything you need it to. That was the profoundly simple effect of “The Weight.” With “How to Become Clairvoyant,” Robertson manages to gracefully and artfully release the weight of the past.

Emily Tuttle is a freelance writer living in Minot. Her e-mail address is [email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.