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One Track Mind: Robbie Robertson, "He Don't Live Here No More" (2011)


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Photo from RobbieRobertson.comBy Nick DeRiso

“He Don't Live Here No More," the edgy lead single from Robbie Robertson's upcoming album How To Become Clairvoyant, is a rollicking rebuke of the dark demons that stole too many friends.

“I was higher than a lost kite—too far gone," Robertson wails, channelling lost souls like Richard Manuel and Rick Danko, former mates in the Band. “Outside they was beating on the door. ... I said, he don't live here no more."

Danko, bassist and vocalist in the Band, died in his sleep in late 1999, suffering what was called drug-related heart failure. The troubled Manuel, who sang and played keyboards, hanged himself in 1986 while on tour with a reformulated Robertson-less edition of the Band in Florida.

Both struggled mightily with addiction.

“It was a lifestyle of the time that most of my friends went through," Robertson said in a pre-release interview recently. “Some came out the other side, and for some, the train ran off the tracks."

How To Become Clairvoyant, co-produced by Marius de Vries (Massive Attack, Bjork, Rufus Wainwright), is set for release on April 5 on Macro-Biotic Records/429 Records. De Vries provides some very understated keyboard work. More than anything, though, this a guitar record, with a nasty hook and a bad attitude.

Eric Clapton, who wrote three of the songs on Robertson's first new solo release in a decade, provides rhythm, and a roving, high-register harmony. Rocco Deluca and Taylor Goldsmith sing additional background vocals. Pino Palladino and Ian Thomas are on bass and drums, respectively.

In keeping with the gnarled anger simmering just below the surface, Robertson's solo turn is this knifing rebuke, performed with bristling force on a gut-string guitar. It's a far cry from the misplaced reverie that hobbled a previous preview tune from How To Become Clairvoyant, “When the Night was Young," and a complete return to form.

(Listen to a radio-edit MP3 of “He Don't Live Here No More" here.)

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