Like Paper, Chris Robinson’s solo debut, Through A Crooked Sun is a largely mellow, reflective, classic rock affair, carved out of the same stone as those who had played before him. As a co-founding member of seminal rock band The Black Crowes, there can be no doubt that Robinson is one of the most experienced guitarists around, and a sort of latter day equivalent to Keith Richards, in that he knows not only how to write a riff but construct a song from the inside out. He also understands the concept of tones, creating textures that are far richer and deeper than might be noticeable on first listen.
Opener “Gone Away” is well constructed, song wise, with its 1970’s undertones and down to earth production. Robinson is no great singer, that much is certain, but we can forgive him for that, because what he lacks in vocal strength he more than makes up for in guitar, which is stellar by the way. Rich shows his inner Santana on “It’s So Easy”, a song which could easily have fitted on any of Carlos’ early ‘70s LPs. “Lost and Found” already sounds familiar, like a song you’ve known for years but haven’t heard before. “I Don’t Hear the Sound of You” has its moments, in a George Harrison b-side sort of way, though nothing all that interesting, except at about the three minute mark, when something special happens. Listen to it and you will know what I mean.
Robinson continues his love of McCartney/Lennon on “Hey Fear”, with its macrobiotic melodies and big arrangements. “All Along the Way” is one of those country/blues/rock songs you’ve heard a thousand times before, often to the point of nausea. Yes, the guitar weeps, the backing band are slow and comforting, the lyrics are mournful, however Robinson’s voice lacks the necessary gravitas to express what it is he wants to express.
“Follow You Forever” is simply lovely, even if it isn’t all that much of a song. Robinson’s guitar is exquisite, and builds to a final crescendo that is atmospheric as the heavens. “Standing On the Surface of the Sun” contains some of Robinson’s best vocals to date, and his guitar playing isn’t too bad either. “Bye Bye Baby” is a stately composition, full of spacey guitar, and a song Robinson obviously put a lot of effort into. The song features Warren Haynes on slide and acoustic, which perhaps explains why it sounds nothing like The Black Crowes. “Falling Again” has Rich in Stephen Stills mode, in other words, thoughtful lyrics, a country-rock arrangement, and plenty of slide guitars to complement the narrative.
Robinson’s cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Station Man” sounds like a cross between Little Feat and AC/CD. The original was in itself a fine slice of English blues-rock, although Rich manages to add his own flavour to it, complementing rather than taking away.
We end with “Fire Around”, a song which probably doesn’t really go anywhere, even though there’s nothing specifically wrong with it. Quality musicianship, but not much else.
Through A Crooked Sun is not a great album by any means, but like a fine steak and salad it’s arguably what any lover of blues-rock needs. What we have is a thoughtful musician who has crafted a finely and cleverly produced album. Overall this is some of the most impressive playing of Robinson’s career to date, even surpassing that of his work with The Black Crowes. No doubt Rich is one guitarist to keep your eye and ear on. And although he’s been around for some 25 years, I’m sure that there will be plenty of wonderful music to come.