During his days with The Band, singer-songwriter-guitarist Robbie Robertson strove for simplicity, writing songs that connected old-timey folksongs to modern concerns. As a solo artist, Robertson continued to link the past to the present in his lyrics, while his music turned toward slow tempos and heavy atmospherics. How To Become Clairvoyant—Robertson’s first new album in more than a decade—has a bluesier bent than his ’90s records, perhaps because of the prominent presence of guests Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, and Robert Randolph. But Robertson also works with champion texture-merchants Trent Reznor and Tom Morello here, and Clairvoyant’s overall sound hews closer to the lumbering late-’80s album-rock of Robertson’s eponymous solo debut than to Music From Big Pink.
That said, 1987’s Robbie Robertson was much better than the dreary albums that followed, because its songs had memorable melodies and evocative lyrics, and the same is true of How To Become Clairvoyant. With the lightly funky “Straight Down The Line,” the soulful ballad “When The Night Was Young,” and the easygoing Clapton duet “Fear Of Falling,” Robertson reflects openly on aging, regrets, and losing the will to rock. The results won’t make anyone forget “Up On Cripple Creek” or “The Unfaithful Servant,” but there’s a warmth here that’s been absent from a lot of Robertson’s more hectoring solo material, and when Robertson sings about “trying to make the right mistake,” anyone familiar with the man’s sometimes thorny personality will appreciate that this may be as close as he ever comes to a mea culpa.