Contact from the Underworld of Redboy

CD Cover Robbie Robertson

Review by Gary 'pigboy' Swartz

This album isn't for everyone, but I happen to like it.

Unlike many of his former Band mates, Robbie Robertson has never looked back. And the words "commercial" and "popular" have all but disappeared from his musical vocabulary -- but what an eclectic and broad vocabulary! What Robertson has done is discover his native-person heritage, and that's the focus of every song on this latest offering. It has given him a rich vein to mine.

"The Sound is Fading" is based around a piece sampled from a Library of Congress recording of a Paiute chant. "Sacrifice" features the voice of Leonard Peltier, the U.S. penal system's Nelson Mandela, describing the politics behind his long incarceration (e-mail Clinton if you think it's time to set the man free). Other songs feature Six Nation women singers, peyote healers, and Inuit throat singers.

Underpinning it all is Robertson's exquisite musical sensibilities, both as a producer and musician, and his unique ability to draw on so many different influences -- just about anything you're liable to hear in the clubs or on the radio -- in crafting what are really more than songs. Musical ???????s. (There's probably not a word for it.) The result is something best described as 'World Music,' not in the sense that if doesn't fit any other description, but that it speaks universally to anyone who is willing to listen. Galactic music?

The music itself is familiar, yet, when filtered through Robertson's vision, very different. The lyrics are often tough, certainly poignant, but free of the bile that often accompanies issues pertaining to native peoples from all perspectives. Maybe because Robertson himself is multi-ethnic, multi-cultured. And maybe there's a message in that as well.

First published in Drop-D Magazine on December 5, 1998

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