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Review: Classic Masters - Robbie Robertson

by Jonathan Katz

[cover art]
There are 12 songs on this CD, collected almost entirely from Contact from the Underworld of Red Boy and Music for the Native Americans. All of the tracks have been 24-bit digitally remastered and the sound quality shows it. Some expense went into the production. There are liner notes and color photos in the trifold "booklet," and several of the tracks are new mixes.

The CD begs the question: Who is this aimed at and why was it released? The answer seems to be that it is aimed at those that were exposed to Robbie from the Olympics, but do not have Contact or Native Americans - not Robbie's fan base who likely have both of these. And it was probably released to capitalize on this fresh market of non-fans. I say that because of the prominent place of the Olympic version of "Making a Noise," both in the liner notes and in the track sequence, and because this is not a real "Greatest Hits" package: there are no tracks from Robbie's eponymous first CD and Storyville.

Of course, there is something here for the fans (fan being derived from the term fanatic), because some of the "classics" have been remastered - and the completist/fanatic will want those versions as well. But those versions will be curiosities - compared to the official releases and discarded. There is a bewildering array of remixes and edits of quite a number of Robbie Robertson tracks, and I am not sure that there is a comprehensive list anywhere. Before I picked up this CD I assumed that the remixes were ones that had been around, but these appear to have been remixed just for this release, though the liner notes come up short of stating that. Brief notes are provided on each of the tracks that are different from the originally released versions.

  1. Making a Noise (Olympic version)
    This track was previously remixed as the Midnight Special remix, and was released on the promotional CD (Capitol DPRO 1697) for Robbie Robertson's 1998 CD Contact from the Underworld of Red Boy. The promo CD was included as a bonus with early Canadian copies of Contact... The version on Classic Masters is a studio version of the "Olympic" version. It is not clear if this is a rehearsal version on a full new production for this CD. "Life" is substituted for "ass" in the lyrics, but Robbie still claims that he's not going quietly. And indeed he is not. The attack to this mix is more immediate and there is considerably more bottom to this mix.

  2. Stomp Dance
    From Contact...

  3. Unbound
    This is a remix that was previously released (Capital DPRO 7087 6 12829 2 4) in 1998.

  4. Ghost Dance
    All of the new mixes on this CD were done by Dan Gellert. This makes the fifth released different mix of this song that I know of. Boggles the mind, but a good song in any of the mixes. "You don't stand a chance against my prayers, you don't stand a chance against my love." What a great lyric.

  5. Coyote Dance
    From Native Americans.

  6. In the Blood
    From Contact...

  7. The Code of Handsome Lake
    From Contact...

  8. Mahk Jchi
    From Contact... There are at least four different mixes of this song, not one of them is particularly compelling for me.

  9. Sacrifice
    From Contact... One or two spins of this on the old CD player and you won't want to hear it again. Forget for a minute the plight of Leonard Peltier; this just doesn't command attention like "King Harvest." Musically, I'd rather listen to "Moon Struck One."

  10. The Sound Is Fading
    From Contact...

  11. Golden Feather
    This is a new mix, and is far as I know this is the first remix of the song released. Originally from Native Americans this is a great tune.

  12. Peyote Healing
    From Contact...

  13. Take Your Partner By The Hand
    This new mix is listed as a bonus track, but as far as I can tell its included on all released versions. So what does it mean to call it a bonus track? Howie B is a co-writer of the song, and he released two versions (Polydor 569 329-2 and 569 327-2) in 1997 that featured Robbie Robertson. This version has a bit more electronica than the originally released version.
Robbie has taken a lot of chances in his post-Band career. Sometimes the results are phenomenal. "Unbound," "Skinwalker," "In The Blood" - each of these are great songs and rival the best compositions from his years with the Band. But this is, for most part, a spin-once CD. Despite the uneven nature of both Native Americans and Contact..., there was a sequence to the tracks that was well thought out. Those sequences in part made each of those projects a comprehensive work rather than a collection of songs. Taking these tracks out of context diminishes them to a collection of songs. Without tracks from Robbie's first CD and Storyville, this CD is an incomplete collection.

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