As the title would suggest, the 67-year-old singer-guitarist is in a reflective mood, but it's more matter-of-fact than sentimental or nostalgic.
He has a lot to look back on, having helped form the Band, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers who backed Bob Dylan and indelibly etched Robertson songs like "Up on Cripple Creek," "The Weight" and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" into the rock 'n' roll consciousness. Rod Stewart had a hit with his "Broken Arrow," the Canadian produced Neil Diamond (before the schlock took over) and wrote music for several Martin Scorsese
"Clairvoyant" is his fifth album since leaving the Band in the mid-'70s. He addresses that departure for the first time in song on "This Is Where I Get Off," declaring that "walking out on the boys was never the plan," but overwork and creative drifting took their toll. "The earth keeps on shaking," Robertson rasps over the song's funereal tempo, "but I keep standing still."
Its no-regrets theme is a thread that runs through this 12-song cycle, which opens with "Straight Down the Line," a song about the clear divisions, generational and otherwise, in music when Robertson came on the scene. It ends with "Tango for Django," a poignant instrumental tribute to the gypsy guitar legend and hero.
"When the Night Was Young" touches on the lost idealism of the Vietnam War-fed '60s counterculture, when: "We were believers/when the night was young/We could change the world/stop the war/Never seen nothing/like this before/But that was back/when the night was young." He delves into the excesses -- and victims -- on "He Don't Live Here No More," pays tribute to the guitar gods on "Axman" (featuring Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello) and taps into Robert Randolph's spirited pedal steel on the title song (their exchange at the end of "Straight Down the Line" is special).
When you're Robbie Robertson, you can call on big-time friends like that. Steve Winwood adds keyboards, Oscar-winner Trent Reznor created the atmospherics for the lovely instrumental "Madame X," but the biggest contributor here is Robertson's fellow guitar soldier-in-arms Eric Clapton, who contributes fluid and tastefully restrained electric and gut string acoustic licks on seven songs. He also co-wrote and shares lead vocals on the deliciously infectious "Fear of Falling," a charmer about romantic allure that would have been a huge radio hit 30 years ago.
If we only knew then ...