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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 13 Remastered Tracks From Two Overlooked 1994/1998 Albums, 13 April 2008
By 
Mark Barry "Mark Barry" - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Classic Masters (Audio CD)
"Classic Masters" contains 4 tracks from "Music For The Native Americans" and 9 tracks from "Contact From The Underworld of Redboy", both albums issued on Capital Records in 1994 and 1998 respectively. All 13 tracks on here are 24-bit digitally remastered and SOUND SUPERB. The short but highly informative liner notes are by the Robertson himself and five of the songs are new remixes/different versions.

Here's the breakdown:

Tracks 4, 5, 8 and 11 are from "Music For The Native Americans", 1994
(credited to ROBBIE ROBERTSON and THE RED ROAD ENSEMBLE)
Tracks 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 9, 10, 12 and 13 are from "Contact From The Underworld of Redboy", 1998
(credited to ROBBIE ROBERTSON)

Track 3 is a Glen Ballard Remix, Tracks 4, 11 and 13 are New Mixes

As THE BAND's frontman and principal songwriter, Robertson has always been fascinated with the roots of American culture (his mother is a Mohawk) and his 1994 outing explores that beautifully. The opening track "Coyote Dance" is a good example, it sounds like a ship approaching the New World as it looms up in the mist ahead; its a kind of Kate Bush "Hounds Of Love" backbeat filled with echoed Red Indian chants - the effect is swirling and magical - and even as it fades out - you wish it wasn't doing so.... They used it as the lead-in music to the 2002 Winter Olympics Ceremony in Salt Lake City to genuine tearful effect.

That theme is continued with the Ulali Women Singers from Tuscarora, Apache and Mayan tribes on "Mahk Jchi (Heartbeat Drum Song)". I'm reminded of the vocal pyrotechnics of The Trio Bulgarka who turned on the Kate Bush's "The Sensual World" album of 1989 - "Mahk Jchi" is lovely in that same way. Only on Track 3 of the album, "Ghost Dance" (about the massacre at Wounded Knee) does Robertson finally start singing and it's excellent... lovely backing vocals also. He brought in RITA COOLIDGE and WALELA (a Cherokee Vocal Group) for "Making A Noise" identified here as (Olympic Version). It was used to close the ceremonies. (Check out the WALELA version of the gospel standard "Amazing Grace" on iTunes - beautiful).

"Stomp Dance" features THE SIX NATIONS WOMEN SINGERS, while `Sacrifice" features the vocals of a prison inmate LEONARD PEITIER - a man who claims he was wrongly jailed and is still seeking justice. Some tracks are less successful - "The Sound Is Fading" features the voice of LEAH HICKS-MANNING used by permission of her family. She was part of the American Indian Movement, but she and her daughter/grandchildren died in suspicious circumstances. Unfortunately, the rendition of the Traditional Song does her memory no justice, because the guitar is so heavy-handed that it drowns out the loveliness of the song. But it's a rare glitch in a sea of genuinely interesting and moving songs. "Peyote Healing Song" is about the Peyote Way, an Indian belief system, banned in the USA for over 100 years. It features vocals by Grammy Award winners Verdell Primeaux and Johnny Mike and sounds like Ladysmith Black Mombaso - it's really excellent. Scottish producer HOWIE B adds very ENO/U2 sound affects to the superb talking-the-lyrics "Take Your Partner By The Hand", which could so easily have been on "Robbie Robertson" - it's a sort of Part 2 of "Somewhere Down The Crazy River".

All in all, "Classic Masters" is a very cool little compilation. Robbie Robertson is a unique voice and this set gathers together the best tracks from an overlooked part of his long career. Well worth your checking out.

PS: Those looking for his superb debut album "Robbie Robertson" from 1987 and its follow-up "Storyville" from 1991, both on Geffen Records will not find tracks from either here ("Robbie Robertson" contains "Somewhere Down The Crazy River", "Broken Arrow", "Fallen Angel" and "Testimony") - neither are they available as iTunes downloads. They're available as hard-copy CDs, but soundwise, it's worth noting the following; the sound quality on the 1987 debut album "Robbie Robertson" in particular, being the first vanguard of CD issues, is by today's standards, dull and ropey.

If you want to buy them on CD, there are 2 good remastered sources. 1st and best is the HIP-O SELECT 2CD set from 2007 simply called "Robbie Robertson/Storyville"; it's a remastered ltd edition, which has both full albums and really stunning sound. The downside is that the HIP-O SELECT stuff is always expensive (about £24 include p&p) - worth it - but expensive. Two is a cheaper option, it's the "20th Century Masters - The Best Of Robbie Robertson - The Millennium Collection" CD from 2006 for about a fiver including p&p. It has 13 remastered tracks including the big 4 tracks mentioned above and also "Sweet Fire Of Love" with U2. It's a mish-mash of both 1987 and 1991 albums with 1 track from 1998 and a good entry point.

"Robbie Robertson/Storyville" and "20th Century Masters - The Best Of Robbie Robertson - The Millennium Collection" are both available via Amazon.
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