Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Robbie Robertson 2: Storyville

While his first solo album was an immediate hit, it wasn’t recorded overnight, and it took Robbie Robertson another four years to complete a follow-up. Robbie Robertson set the bar pretty high, and he wasn’t working with Daniel Lanois this time around. Storyville shares none of its predecessor’s big-name guests, save Rick Danko and Garth Hudson, but boasts a bunch of other well-known singers, Jerry Marotta (familiar from Peter Gabriel) on some of the drums, and four different horn sections. Naturally, an album inspired by New Orleans demands the presence of various Neville Brothers and Meters, but oddly, there’s no Dr. John.
“Night Parade” sets up the tone of the album, sounding enough like the one before but with some Nola touches. On “Hold Back The Dawn” it’s clear that Robbie has enough confidence in his own voice, but it’s always nice to hear Rick in the mix. The funk picks up for “Go Back To Your Woods”, written with Bruce Hornsby but not overly indicative of his touch. A couple of bona fide Indian chiefs provide something of a closing commentary, to which Robbie’s heritage propels him to moan along. “Soap Box Preacher” is a duet with Neil Young, of all people, Neil softly singing his lines while Robbie rasps his. The mystery returns on “Day Of Reckoning (Burnin’ For You)”, written with the other guy from David + David. (You’re forgiven for punctuating any of the pauses with “Wait—did you hear that?”)
Ivan Neville co-wrote the seductive “What About Now” and helps sing it too, along with dad Aaron, making it all sound almost romantic. “Shake This Town” is an excuse for another parade of sorts, but the highlight for some of us is “Breakin’ The Rules”, Robbie’s version of a Blue Nile heartbreaker, complete with that band performing and Paul Buchanan singing. “Resurrection” sounds mostly like similarly paced songs on the album, but the chorus chord out of left field is a good touch. “Sign Of The Rainbow” seems like a personal song; it builds slowly, gains strength from the drums and vocals, and fades away.
Taken all together, Storyville sounds like a congruous second chapter, even if the stories he’s trying to tell don’t always ring. It’s a long album, too, so some shuffling is required to fit with its brother on a Maxell for convenient looping. (Years later they were paired in an expanded package, this album regaining its lost title track, wisely left off the album the first time, and the moody B-side “The Far, Lonely Cry Of Trains”, which is good until he starts singing.)

Robbie Robertson Storyville (1991)—3

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