Robbie Robertson, soon to be in the limelight again as the focus of a documentary about his life and career, plans to make good on all that attention by releasing “Sinematic,” his first album since 2011.
The album is being heralded with a duet with Van Morrison, “I Hear You Paint Houses,” released as a single Thursday — a teaming that will remind a lot of fans of their shared participation in “The Last Waltz” more than 40 years ago, although there’s no mistaking the groove for a ’70s-vintage one.
A press statement described the former songwriter for the Band as “drawing inspiration” for the new album from “Testimony,” his 2016 memoir; “Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band,” the documentary that will bow at the Toronto International Film Festival with an opening-night gala premiere Sept. 5; and from “The Irishman,” the Martin Scorsese epic feature for which he’s working on the score, due from Netflix later in the year.
“I Hear You Paint Houses” is overtly a nod to the latter. That phrase served as the title for the book about hit man Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran that was adapted for Scorsese’s dramatization. “‘I hear you paint houses’ is kind of gruesome in a way — it’s an expression for when you want to hire a killer,” Robertson told Rolling Stone. “’Painting houses’ refers to the splattering of blood. I said (to Morrison), ‘Hey, you want to sing on a song about splattering blood and a guy who kills people?’ But he liked that.”
The album lives up to its cinema-suggestive title with other tracks with movie connections. “Once Were Brothers” is the title track for the documentary about Robertson’s time with the Band. “I didn’t write the song for the movie and the movie wasn’t being made around the song,” Robertson told Rolling Stone. “They just drifted together at a certain point and it felt right. I’m talking about the brotherhood with the group.”
The track “Beautiful Madness” is described as being in part inspired by the Nicholas Ray film “Bigger Than Life,” which starred James Mason as a normal husband and father who becomes addicted to an ego-boosting experimental drug, but also by the time Robertson spent living with Scorsese during and after the release of “The Last Waltz.” That era “wasn’t wacked out or goofy,” Robertson said in Rolling Stone. “It was a beautiful madness. And we’re lucky. We lived.”
A closing instrumental, “Remembrance,” will be heard as an end-titles song in “The Irishman,” although it’s being described as a tribute to a mogul Robertson befriended, the late Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen.
The Sept. 20 general album release will be followed by a vinyl/CD deluxe edition Oct. 25, limited to 1000 copies and featuring expanded artwork by Robertson in a hardback book.