Robbie Robertson

Sinematic

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The titular pun of Sinematic cuts both ways. Robbie Robertson drew inspiration from his work for the silver screen -- in particular, Martin Scorsese's The Irishman, which resulted in the Van Morrison duet "I Hear You Paint Houses," whose title is pulled from the title of the Frank Sheeran memoir that serves as the basis for the Scorsese film -- but Sinematic also feels distinctly like a collection of aural short films. Throughout the album, Robertson relies on atmosphere, a vibe he builds with swathes of synthesizers, half-spoken, half-sung vocals, in the pocket rhythms, and plenty of tasty licks. Such studio precision has been a hallmark of Robertson's solo work, but Sinematic largely dispenses with darkness, at least sonically speaking. His songs are littered with unsettling undercurrents -- it's little wonder he chose to write a song about the old pulp serial The Shadow -- but Sinematic doesn't feel disturbing: it's mood music for a late night that threatens to succumb to seduction but is too pleased with the moment to put anything at risk. Although Robertson's delivery often veers toward the hammy -- he relishes the B-movie gangsters on "Shanghai Blues" and hisses out “hardwired for sex” as if was a snake lying in the grass -- there are pleasures to be had in this upscale affair. The clean funk and gleaming blues are performed with the expert panache of old pros who enjoy adding grace notes to shopworn chord changes, and that can be almost enough to compensate Robertson singing like he's an actor trying on roles. It isn't quite enough to excuse how Sinematic sounds like it was dredged up from the second half of the '80s -- the showcase "I Heard You Paint Houses" could be swapped for "It's in the Way That You Use It" in The Color of Money and nobody would be the wiser -- but that's also it's charm: Robertson doesn't realize he's stuck in his ways, making music the old-fashioned way.

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