When I was growing up my dad had a Robbie Robertson album, I don’t remember which one. When I discovered the Band, I had a hard time reconciling the memories I had of his solo music with The Band’s music – they seem to have been made by two totally different people, or at least by musicians with very, very different ideas of aesthetics.
So I really didn’t want to listen to this record, because I remembered the bad production of whichever record my dad had. I figured I would give this one listen, decide it wasn’t worth my time, and move on.
But though I think the production has dated rather horribly, I like this a lot more than I expected I would.
I shouldn’t have doubted Robertson’s ability to write songs, but I really did. And I did because of my memory of what his solo stuff sounded like. But these songs are catchy and reasonably interesting, in a way that feels like modernizing roots rock.
I can’t say I love most of the lyrics – they sound to me like they are, at times, caricatures of his romantic Americana that he wrote for the Band – but they’re passable enough.
For a man who was scared of singing, Robertson is a surprisingly charismatic singer. And he duets with even more charismatic singers, resulting in compelling performances in spit of the production.
But jesus Daniel Lanois, that production. It’s so of its time, and its so Joshua Tree-era U2. The way this record sounds it could only ever have been made by Daniel Lanois in 1987 (or someone worshipful of that sound). (As you might imagine, U2 and Bono’s presence doesn’t help that vibe.)
And that’s a shame because I like the rest of it so much more than I thought I would. (I really didn’t want to like it.) It is actually mostly deserving of all the acclaim it got at the time, which is a real surprise to me.