“Some things got tradition/Some shine like new,” Robbie Robertson sings in his limited but oddly affecting growl in the first song here, “Straight Down the Line.” It is an apt description of the distinguishing tangle in his work — the antique and the immediate, from the Vietnam-era resonance of his Civil War parables for the Band to the haunted atmospheres and slow-drag love songs on this album. How to Become Clairvoyant is Robertson’s first record in more than a decade and a return to the ambitious aural cinema and textural explorations of 1987’s Robbie Robertson and 1991’s Storyville.
The Euro-dance pulse of “He Don’t Live Here No More” comes lathered in dive-bar grime; in “Axman,” a roll call of fallen guitar heroes, Robertson gives solo time to extreme-metal upstart Tom Morello. But Robertson also goes way back, for the first time on a solo record, into his rock & roll life with the Band. “When the Night Was Young” combines Sixties idealism and voodoo grind with memories of back roads and juke-joint gigs, when his old group was still the Hawks. It is fitting that Eric Clapton, who once aspired to join the Band, sings and plays on half of this record. His and Robertson’s grizzled vocals and pointillist guitar exchanges in “The Right Mistake” and “Fear of Falling” (the latter with throaty bolts of organ by Steve Winwood) are sublime roughage, the sound of two men with shared roots still moving forward.
Listen to “When the Night Was Young”: