Album: Robbie Robertson
. . .
Robbie Robertson is an interesting figure, especially given the ongoing resentment against him for how The Band broke up and how the aftermath of that break-up treated the other guys.
That said, he’s an all-timer just for his work in the decade from 1966-1976. Or for that matter, the first two Band albums. Or for that matter, his work with Dylan. Or for that matter, his guitar playing on the 1966 tour, which remains some of the most powerful and unique rock guitar ever played — one of the keys to music that remains unmatched.
So it was under the weight all of that history, plus over a decade of no new music, that Robertson’s first solo album — self-titled, natch — came out during the awful autumn of 1987. Working with Daniel Lanois — who had co-produced The Joshua Tree and was about to produce Bob Dylan’s semi-comeback Oh Mercy! — Robertsons’ solo debut got absolutely terrific reviews, so naturally I was curious.
And sure enough, it was lush, atmospheric, and sounded absolutely amazing. I also found it as boring as fuck. With one exception, the Peter Gabriel-assisted “Broken Arrow.”
Who else is gonna bring you a broken arrow
Who else is gonna bring you a bottle of rain
There he goes, moving across the water (that’s right)
There he goes, turning my whole world around
“Broken Arrow” works equally well as a love song or a spiritual song, and while there’s a reason that he didn’t sing all of those great songs he wrote — I mean outside of the fact that he was in a band with Richard Manuel, Rick Danko and Levon Helm — his raspy-ass Gabriel impression is oddly affecting, and Lanois’ spooky backing vocals help tremendously.
It’s overwhelmingly pretty and incredibly sad — though I might just have been projecting my mood at the time — because you get the impression that it doesn’t really matter if Robertson’s the only one to bring the broken arrow or bottle of rain, that it’s somehow not good enough.
I wasn’t the only person to be struck by “Broken Arrow:” Rod Stewart had a top 20 hit with a muzaky version, and Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead performed with the Dead and several spin-off bands, as well.
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