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Robbie Robertson is a guitarist and song writer known for his involvement in the Band, the group which originally backed Dylan for his tours in 1965, 1966 and 1974. The group released work that was considered mainly to be folk rock, taking on some of the song writing and song ideas from that of Dylan and delivering them in a style that suited the multi instrumentalist group. Robbie Robertson himself was the main song writer, creating such classics as King Harvest (Has Surely Come) and The Weight. But once the Band had gone their separate ways after the Last Waltz in 1976, Robertson continued within music, although on the others side of the studio producing records for the likes of Neil Diamond, but moved into films, aiding Martin Scorsese on many occasions on the music side of the films. And with such commitments he never got round to releasing a solo effort until 1987, which was self titled, and from then has gone on to release another three albums of material, with some of the latter ones taking on some of his Native American roots.
But this album is made up of material that perhaps not too similar to some of his material with the Band is still teaming with his style of song writing, but done in a style that could perhaps be considered epic, taking on some of the ideas from that of the films he helped with. It won Album of the Year and Lanois and Robertson shared an award for Producer of Year, Lanois the main producer for the likes of U2 and Peter Gabriel. The two of these also make appearances n some of the tracks, as they were recording albums at the time, The Joshua Tree and So respectively. The material on the album deals with some personal issues for Robertson, whilst also looking at the state of America, seen most prominently in American Roulette. In my opinion this is his best solo release after the break up of the Band, but I still feel that some of the things that the Band expressed and what made them is lacking here.
1. Fallen Angel ****
This is a track that does have a U2 feel in terms of production and the anthem feel of the vocals and the track, with the quiet instrumentation and focus on the vocals doing the same. This is quite a relaxing track, and when I first heard this I was not entirely convinced, but after a few listens has begun to grow on me a bit more.
2. Showdown at Big Sky ****
The lyrics do have a connection to Robertson's Native American roots, talking about fighting against those which oppose you. The production is much the same as the last, but the instrumentation is more pronounced and helps to build the song to a crescendo during the chorus, although the vocals do feel a bit too restrained. One of the better tracks on the album but still not perfect.
3. Broken Arrow ****
Again this feels like it could have been a great track, but lacks any great power and emotion, and simply seems to sit at the same level for the entire track. This was covered later by Rod Stewart, on his album Vagabond Heart. A nice track with the same epic production feel, but this can be overdone and after three tracks of much the same type, it does begin to grate.
4. Sweet Fire of Love *****
The first song to be done with U2 is the best so far, with the vocals from Bono really expanding the track. This does feel a bit U2 like of the period, which is no bad thing, and for me makes a better track than some of the previous efforts. The lyrics aren't really a highlight, but it does feel a bit more powerful and the instruments do seem to come in a bit more, which is nice, but the production is still a bit samey.
5. American Roulette *****
For me this is a bit more of a song and the guitar solo and instrumental outro do make a nice change from some of the sparse instrumentation of the other tracks. The song deals with three American's rise to fame and the consequences that ensued from that, it never mentions the names, but they have been shown to be Elvis Presley, James Dean and Marilyn Monroe. It also looks at others desire for fame due to their success, perhaps a commentary on modern America, perhaps the best song so far.
6. Somewhere Down the Crazy River *****
The vocals here are mainly spoken, with the exception of the chorus, which makes a good change, as Robertson was never known for his vocal performances. The song itself deals with his younger years with Levon Helm in Arkansas, and has a nice feel, like a man remembering the past and telling it with great passion to his children. This was his only single success in the UK making it to 15 on the singles chart. For me the highlight of the album.
7. Hell's Half Acre ****
This has a nice feel at the start with the more band focus, but the lyrics do feel a bit too pushed, although it is a nice song. This is really again related to the plight of the Native American's and fighting for your country, talking of the depravity and waste of life that comes from them.
8. Sonny Got Caught In the Moonlight ****
This returns to the over produced feel of some of the earlier tracks and as such for me does fall down a bit, but the narrative style of the vocals and lyrics are nice, but still it is a bit samey and not much of a change from some of the other tracks. The lyrics deal with a boy lost in a wave of vandalism and crime, trying to escape but unable to, thus eventually caught for his deeds.
9. Testimony ***
This does feel a bit gimmicky with the chorus and the instrumentation, but with the change in style it does make a nice change for the final track on this disappointing album. The lyrics feel a bit confused, although the vocals are better then some of the others, but that still doesn't make this a truly engaging track.
Overall for me this is a bit of a disappointing album that doesn't even come close to even the poor releases by the Band, it all feels a bit too samey and never really engaged me a s a listener. But despite this, there are a couple of nice tracks that are worth a few listens, but this is still a disappointing release that for most fans of the Band will be a disappointment. I have given it four stars, but perhaps three and a half would be more appropriate.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Fallen Angel
2 Showdown At Big Sky
3 Broken Arrow
4 Sweet Fire Of Love
5 American Roulette
6 Somewhere Down The Crazy River
7 Hell's Half Acre
8 Sonny Got Caught In The Moonlight