WHO IS HE? The Band’s main man. Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan’s old sidekick. Martin Scorsese’s former roommate. An erstwhile resident of Big Pink and Shangri-La. One of the guys who played The Last Waltz. A retired Carny. And one of the most influential Americana musicians in history — who just happened to come out of the Great White North. Go figure.
WHAT IS THIS? Only his sixth solo album in more than three decades (not counting film scores, soundtracks and reissues), his first disc of new songs since 2011’s How to Become Clairvoyant, and a work supposedly inspired by the 76-year-old artist’s recent film scores for Scorsese’s The Irishman and the Band documentary Once Were Brothers.
WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? Somewhere between a soundtrack, a score and a star-studded comeback album. The guest list here includes Van Morrison, Doyle Bramhall II, Citizen Cope, Glen Hansard and Derek Trucks. But to their credit, they all take a backseat to Robertson and his songs. About those: Much like the bulk of his solo work, most of these 13 stylish cuts are groovy slow-burns topped with tasteful instrumentation, lush sonics and literate, husky-voiced tales of life, death and love on the wrong side of town. It could easily have been a rock opera. Thankfully, it isn’t.
WHAT WOULD BE A BETTER TITLE FOR THIS ALBUM? Home Movies.
HOW SHOULD I LISTEN TO IT? You might as well run it through your home theatre — even though it hasn’t been mixed for 5.1 audio (far as I know, anyway), some of these cuts feel immersive enough to make it work.
WHAT 10 WORDS DESCRIBE IT? Dramatic, sophisticated, smoky, nocturnal, textured, layered, narrative, enigmatic, moody, philosophical.
WHAT ARE THE BEST SONGS? It’s hard to top the opening Van the Man duet I Hear You Paint Houses — which comes from the slang used when hiring a hitman — but the smouldering Dead End Kid and Hardwired come close, while Street Serenade features a decidedly Dylanesque vocal.
WHAT WILL MY FRIENDS AND FAMILY SAY? ‘Here’s hoping he was inspired enough to write and record enough material for a sequel.’
HOW OFTEN WILL I LISTEN TO THIS? Robertson’s dark narratives and elegantly constructed songs will likely pull you back in — especially at night.
IF THIS ALBUM WERE ALCOHOL, WHAT KIND OF ALCOHOL WOULD IT BE? Something brown, warm, earthy and potent.
SHOULD I BUY, STREAM OR STEAL IT? When you only make an album once every eight years — and it’s as good as this — you deserve to get paid.