On Robbie Robertson’s new song “Let Love Reign,” from his highly anticipated new album Sinematic, the legendary songwriter and musician sings about personal and political nightmares while craving a better future for “this beautiful broken world” and carrying on John Lennon’s plea for peace. Over a soulful groove, electronic textures and a chiming guitar lick, Robertson pleads, “Raising hope that tomorrow/There may be peace of mind/As world leaders take us/On a guided tour of hell/Let love reign/Let love rain down,” backed by Glen Hansard, the acclaimed Irish vocalist of The Frames, The Swell Season and the film “Once.” “Some people think John Lennon’s dream about love and togetherness went up in flames,” Robertson says. “I think that’s wrong. It’s everlasting. There was something a little naive about John Lennon going around singing about peace, but in that period young people celebrating love and peace helped end a war.” “Let Love Reign” is available now for streaming and as an instant grat download with digital album preorder. Preorder Sinematic and listen to “Let Love Reign”: https://RobbieRobertson.lnk.to/Sinematic
Sinematic will be released on CD, digital and 180-gram 2LP vinyl on September 20 via UMe, with a Deluxe Edition, limited to 1000 copies, to follow on October 25. The Deluxe Edition presents the album on CD and 180-gram 2LP vinyl with a 36-page hardcover book featuring custom artwork Robertson has created for each track. The 13-song self-produced collection is Robertson’s first new studio album since 2011’s introspective How To Become Clairvoyant.
For Sinematic, Robertson drew inspiration from his recent film score writing and recording for director Martin Scorsese’s eagerly anticipated organized crime epic “The Irishman,” as well as the forthcoming feature documentary film, “Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band,” based on his 2016 New York Times bestselling memoir “Testimony.” The documentary will celebrate its world premiere on Thursday, September 5 as the Opening Night Gala Presentation for the 44th Toronto International Film Festival.
The album’s evocative opening track, “I Hear You Paint Houses,” also available now for streaming and as an instant grat download with digital album preorder, was drawn from Scorsese’s film and the book it’s based on, Charles Brandt’s “I Heard You Paint Houses” about confessed hit man Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran. The song is a riveting duet with Van Morrison that features bright guitar and a blithe tone that belies its chilling lyrics. Mob code for hiring a hit man, painting houses refers to spattering walls with blood. Opening with Robertson’s devilish invitation, “Shall we take a little spin/To the dark side of town?,” the opening track sets the album’s stage for more gripping tales of villainy and vice and powerful stories about destruction and despair.
“I was working on music for ‘The Irishman’ and working on the documentary, and these things were bleeding into each other,” says Robertson of the impetus for Sinematic. “I could see a path. Ideas for songs about haunting and violent and beautiful things were swirling together like a movie. You follow that sound and it all starts to take shape right in front of your ears. At some point, I started referring to it as ‘Peckinpah Rock’,” a nod, Robertson says, to Sam Peckinpah, the late director of such violent Westerns as “The Wild Bunch.”
Narrated in Robertson’s cool parched croon, the yarns unspool over his vibrant guitar stylings and a bedrock of moody, midtempo rock, anchored on most tracks by bassist Pino Palladino (John Mayer Trio, The Who), drummer Chris Dave (D’Angelo, Adele), and keyboardist Martin Pradler, who also mixed the record. The band is rounded out with Afie Jurvanen, who provides guitar and backing vocals, along with vocalist Felicity Williams, a regular collaborator with Jurvanen in his band Bahamas. Robertson is joined on the album by special guest vocalists Van Morrison, Glen Hansard, Citizen Cope, J.S. Ondara, and Laura Satterfield; musicians Jim Keltner, Derek Trucks, Frédéric Yonnet, and Doyle Bramhall II; and producer Howie B who provides throbbing electronic textures to several tracks.
On “Dead End Kid,” one of Sinematic’s many standouts, Robertson turns the lens inward as he recalls some of the obstacles and low expectations he faced as a youth as a member of a First Nation and Jewish gangster family. Wielding his guitar like a dangerous weapon, he demonstrates the breathtaking playing skills that caused a frenzy on Bob Dylan’s notorious 1966 electric tour and that helped to birth the Americana genre. Robertson’s defiant lyrics recall his teenage dream to play his music around the globe: “I want to show the world/Something they ain’t never seen/I want to take you somewhere/You ain’t never been.” Robertson’s raspy vocal is perfectly complemented by Glen Hansard’s soulful, soaring voice.
Throughout the album, Robertson takes listeners through a colorful tour of society’s seedy underbelly. “Shanghai Blues” is a vivid saga examining China’s notorious Green Gang mobster Du Yuesheng, who dominated opium, gambling and prostitution operations in the early 20th century. More crime and mystery unfold in the moody “Street Serenade,” which Robertson calls a “sinphony.” The edgy, electronic “The Shadow” is a nostalgic homage to Orson Welles’ entrancing radio crime drama.
Robertson’s guitar playing takes center stage on two instrumental tracks, “Wandering Souls” and the album’s string-laden closer, “Remembrance,” written for his late friend, Microsoft co-founder and music lover Paul Allen. Robertson enlisted Allen’s guitar heroes Derek Trucks and Doyle Bramhall II, plus drummer Jim Keltner, for the grand and melancholy elegy.
While many of the songs on Sinematic focus on sinful themes far removed from Robertson, he draws from his own extraordinary life story for the track “Once Were Brothers,” a bittersweet reflection on The Band, written for the new documentary of the same name. Robertson is joined on the track by Nairobi native J.S. Ondara and American singer/songwriter Citizen Cope. Mournful strains of a harmonica and organ play as Robertson relates The Band’s farewell, singing “Once were brothers/Brothers no more.” Of the song, Robertson says, “There is war and conflict involved. Writing it hurt inside sometimes, but those experiences can be rewarding in the emotional outcome. It hurt but I loved it.”
Inspired by Robertson’s acclaimed 2016 autobiography, “Testimony,” director Daniel Roher’s “Once Were Brothers” documentary explores Robertson’s young life and the creation of The Band, one of the most influential groups in the history of popular music. The compelling film blends rare archival footage, photography, iconic songs, and interviews with many of Robertson’s friends and collaborators, including Martin Scorsese, Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Peter Gabriel, Taj Mahal, Dominique Robertson, and Ronnie Hawkins. Made in conjunction with Imagine Documentaries, White Pine Pictures, Bell Media Studios, and Universal Music Canada’s Shed Creative, the project is executive produced by Martin Scorsese; Imagine Entertainment chairmen Brian Grazer and Ron Howard; Justin Wilkes and Sara Bernstein for Imagine Documentaries; White Pines Pictures’ president Peter Raymont, and COO Steve Ord; Bell Media president, Randy Lennox; Jared Levine; Michael Levine; Universal Music Canada president and CEO Jeffrey Remedios; and Shed Creative’s managing director Dave Harris. The film is produced by Andrew Munger, Stephen Paniccia, Sam Sutherland, and Lana Belle Mauro.
Enhancing Sinematic’s film noir thrust is a suite of multimedia images that Robertson created, including artwork for the cover and each individual song. Listeners are brought even further into his Sinematic world with a series of striking portraits and abstract images, ranging from expressionist paintings to experimental photography. In one depiction, a photo of Robertson’s Walther 9mm pistol, “the same gun James Bond used,” is drenched in crimson and gold, juxtaposed next to a menacing figure. In another, paint seeps into a textured canvas as if it’s been burned in. The art is included in the Standard Edition’s CD and LP booklet and presented even more elegantly in the Deluxe Edition’s lavish 12”x12” casebound hardcover book.
For fans who would like to own a piece of the artwork, four images – the Sinematic album cover, “Beautiful Madness,” “Shanghai Blues,” and “Walk In Beauty Way” – are being made available for purchase as archival-quality, framed canvas prints in a limited run of 100 for each. Ten canvas prints of the album’s cover art will be signed by Robertson with proceeds benefiting the American Indian College Fund. To view and order the images, visit: https://RobbieRobertson.lnk.to/Sinematic
As Robertson prepares to release his sixth solo album, The Band’s iconic self-titled sophomore LP will turn 50 just a few days later (plans to celebrate the anniversary will be announced soon). For six decades, the legendary songwriter, musician and guitarist has created timeless, influential music that has transported and transfixed generations, just as he dreamed about as a kid growing up in Toronto. With Sinematic, Robbie Robertson has once again created a captivating album that builds on his celebrated solo works while pushing forward in new sonic directions.