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CD Reviews:
Sound Check: Robbie Robertson, Ray Davies and more...

of the Oakland Press

Posted: Sunday, April 3, 2011

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Robbie Robertson

“How to Become Clairvoyant”

Bella Coola/429

★★★ 1/2

Robbie Robertson hasn’t exactly been prolific as a solo artist since he parted ways with The Band in 1976, but he’s been consistently strong when he has surfaced. And that’s certainly the case with “How to Become Clairvoyant,” his first release in 13 years and an enveloping mix of mood, texture and genuine melodic beauty across the course of its dozen songs. The not-so-secret weapon here is Eric Clapton, a longtime Band devotee and Robertson pal with whom he started the project and who appears on seven of the tracks — co-writing two, dueting on the soulful “Fear of Falling” and playing acoustic gut-string guitar counterpoints on the instrumental “Madame X,” which also features nine inch nails’ Academy Award-winning Trent Reznor. Other high-profile helpers include Steve Winwood on three tracks, Robert Randolph — who plays pedal steel on the opening “Straight Down the Line” and “Clairvoyant” — and guitar whiz Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave), who duels with Robertson on the name-checking “Axman.” What makes “Clairvoyant” even better is that it’s Robertson’s most personal solo record to date, too; after dipping into his own ethnic heritage for 1994’s “Music For ‘The Native Americans’ “ and 1998’s “Contact From the Underworld of Redboy,” this time out he’s comfortable in dealing with his rock ‘n’ roll past, singing about the end of The Band in “This is Where I Get Off,” the excesses of the lifestyle in “He Don’t Live Here No More” and the early days of rock — and his role in it — in “When the Night Was Young” and “Straight Down the Line.” “Clairvoyant” is a front-to-back treat, and hopefully it wont’ be another 13 years before we hear from Robertson again.


Ray Davies, “See My Friends” (Decca) ★★★

The Kinks seems to be on the precipice of reuniting for the first time in 15 years, but until that happens frontman and chief songwriter Ray Davies has revisited the group’s ouvre with, as the title indicates, some friends. And what friends they are: Bruce Springsteen trades lines with Davies on “Better Things;” Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora join him for a spirited “Celluloid Heroes;” Metallica sounds like it’s having a hoot on “You Really Got Me;” and Paloma Faith’s female counterpoint adds new dimensions to the ever-sly “Lola.” Other highlights on the 14-song set include a splendid acoustic pairing with Jackson Browne on “Waterloo Sunset,” one of the late Alex Chilton’s final recordings on a garagey take of “ ‘Til the End of the Day” and Mumford & Sons — disciples of the Kinks’ “Muswell Hillbillies” era — taking on “Days/This Time Tomorrow.” These kind of all-star collaborations tend to be hit-and-miss, but “See My Friends” is well worth hearing.

New & Noteworthy

Craig Campbell, “Craig Campbell” (Bigger Picture Group): The country newcomer from Georgia co-wrote nine of the 11 songs, including the single “Family Man,” on his debut album.

Daft Punk, “Tron: Legacy Reconfigured” (Disney): The French electronic duo reimagines its “Tron: Legacy” soundtrack with help from Moby, the Crystal Method, Paul Oakenfold and others.

Ha Ha Tonka, “Death of a Decade” (Bloodshot): The Missouri roots rockers recorded their third album in upstate New York.

Hollywood Undead, “American Tragedy” (A&M/Octone): The rap-rock group’s sophomore album introduces new “clean” vocalist Danny Murillo.

Hot Tuna, “Steady As She Goes” (Red House): The first new studio album in 20 years from the Jefferson Airplane spin-off led by guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady.

INXS, “Original Sin” (Rhino): The Australian group’s latest, which features guest singers (Rob Thomas, Train’s Pat Monahan, Ben Harper, Nikka Costa and more) recasting the group’s biggest hits, is now released as an Amazon.com exclusive.

Diana Jones, “Atmosphere” (Proper American): Jim Lauderdale helps fellow Americana singer-songwriter Jones out on her third album.

The Kills, “Blood Pressures” (Domino): The British duo, whose Alison “VV” Mosshart is also part of the Dead Weather, recorded its fourth album in Benton Harbor, Mich., where it also recorded two of its predecessors.

Mint Condition, “7...” (Shanachie): The St. Paul, Minn., R&B group’s seventh album (betcha figured that out from the title no?) includes the single “Caught My Eye” and a team-up with Kelly Price on “Not My Daddy.”

Movits!, “Out of my head” (Alternative Distribution Alliance): On its sophomore album, the Swedish hip-hop trio continues to incorporate big band swing stylings with its beats and rhymes.

Original Cast, “Priscilla: Queen of the Desert” (Rhino): The campy musical, adapted from the film of the same name, features romps through dance-pop favorites by Madonna, Gloria Gaynor, Donna Summer, the Weather Girls and more.

Gretchen Parlato, “The Lost and Found” (Obliqsound): The jazz singer and Thelonious Monk Institute alum works with her regular trio as well as guests Dayna Stephens and Alan Hampton on her third album.

Raveonettes, “Raven in the Grave” (Vice): The Danish duo pulls back from the noise of 2009’s “Out of Control” to explore a more ethereal direction on its fifth studio set.

Brian Robertson, “Diamonds & Dirt” (Steamhammer/SPV): The former Thin Lizzy guitarist’s first solo album features songs he wrote with that band’s late leader Phil Lynott and help from members of the groups Europe, MSG and Treat.

The Smithereens, “2011” (eOne): The New Jersey rockers return to making original music after a pair of Beatles covers albums, a Christmas set and its own take on the Who’s “Tommy.”

The Submarines, “Love Notes/Letter Bombs” (Nettwerk): The indie rock duo’s third studio album features Spoon drummer Jim Eno on the song “Birds.”

Tiesto, “Club Life: Volume One Las Vegas (Musical Freedom): The Dutch DJ mines Sin City inspiration for his latest musical mash-up.

Various Artists, “Mortal Kombat: Songs Inspired By Warriors” (Watertower): MSTRKRFT’s JFK, 9th Wonder, LA Riots, Run DMT [cq] and others contribute songs to the latest musical companion to the popular video game.

Various Artists: “Rio: Music From the Motion Picture” (Interscope): New music by the Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am and performances by him and cast members Jamie Foxx, Anne Hathaway and George Lopez are the features from the new animated film.

Anna Wilson, “Countrypolitan Duets” (Transfer): Jazz vocalist Wilson gets her twang on with guests Lady Antebellum, Keith Urban, Rascal Flats, Kenny Rogers and more.

From The Vaults: Ray Charles, “Live in Concert” (Concord); Joe Cocker, “Icon” (A&M/Ume); Miles Davis, “The Definitive Miles Davis on Prestige” (Prestige); Bill Evans, “The Definitive Bill Evans on Riverside & Fantasy” (Riverside); Etta James, “The Essential Modern Records Collection” (Capitol/EMI); The Judds, “I Will Stand By You: The Essential Collection” (Curb); Local H, “Icon” (Island/UMe); Albert King, “Definitive Albert King” (Stax); B.B. King, “Icon” (MCA/UMe); Material Issue, “International Pop Overthrow: 20th Anniversary Edition” (Hip-O Select); Sergio Mendes, “Celebration: A Musical Journey” (Emarcy/Verve); Nonpoint, “Icon” (UMe); Rush, “Moving Pictures — Deluxe Edition” (Mercury/UMe); Leon Russell, “The Best of Leon Russell” (Capitol/EMI); Cat Stevens, “Icon” (Island/UMe); Sublime, “Icon” (UMe)

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