Testimony is such an interesting title for Robbie Robertson’s companion CD to his memoir of the same name. Primarily as guitarist and songwriter for The Band, Robertson was considered mostly among equals in a group that included the late Levon Helm, the late Richard Manuel, the late Rick Danko, and Garth Hudson. His credits for the ensemble include what have to now be, some four decades later, considered as an elite part of the classic rock songbook, such as “The Weight” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” Yet, Helms’ 1993 autobiography disputed the claim of sole authorship of these and other staples to Robertson, saying in many instances it was a collaborative effort. Robertson has refuted Helm’s assertion, and here is, in a sense, Robertson’s audio testimony; 18 tracks culled from his career, from early days with Bob Dylan (a live “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35”) as well as rarities from Levon and the Hawks, to a “unity” mix of the title track that features Gil Evans, U2, and Nile Rodgers among others.
As a companion to the memoir, the music offers the evidence of what Robertson details in his book, but it also serves independently as an anthology of the incredible music he and his bandmates have produced, even into his recent solo output. There are greatest hits packages of The Band, but ironically, this set that focuses on accentuating Robertson’s contributions ends up confirming how strong the groups he’s been in have been. This is the testimony of a songwriter and his songs, but it is equally a testimony of not just The Band, but a band. Robbie Robertson may or may not have felt motivated by Helm’s account to provide one of his own, but regardless of the motivation the result is clear: Robertson has been an integral creative visionary, and partner, for so much timeless and essential music.