It's no surprise Robertson would name his second solo album after a historic section of New Orleans famed for sensual and ritualistic pursuits. Mixing the earthy and ethereal is the ex-Band leader's stock in trade nowadays.
Though conceptual in nature, the album has more to do with Storyville as "a state of mind" than the actual locale--which is described only in one song, "Go Back to Your Woods," a percolating number about New Orleans' dens of sin (backed by local lights the Meters).
The 10 tracks traverse several states and decades in describing an on-again, off-again love affair, along with the protagonist's search for spiritual fulfillment, climaxing far from Louisiana on the Hopi Indian reservation.
Or so Robertson says. This narrative seems to have stayed mostly in the artist's head (and in the detailed press kit synopsis). "Storyville" is better appreciated as a strong but uneven collection of tunes than as the dramatic whole he envisioned.
Some cuts get surprisingly pedestrian in waxing romantic and wonderstruck, Robertson's populist sense besting his poetic instincts. (Lines like "We're all living in a street opera" veer mighty close to Bon Jovi territory.)
Other vignettes, though, are standouts--like "Soapbox Preacher" (in which Robertson's husky whisper mixes prettily with a Neil Young harmony), "Resurrection" (where gospel's Zion Harmonizers contribute to the funky chorus) and "What About Now," a carpe diem anthem in which Robertson's romanticism achieves the urgency intended.
Rating: * * *