For fans of mellow country-rock, Chris Robinson’s solo debut will seem like a sunny meadow in contrast to The Black Crowes far more cynically inclined observations of life. New Earth Mud is a statement from a man who finally found happiness and wanted to express it to the world. Blame it on his marriage to Hollywood actress Kate Hudson, but often domestic contentment can also bring with it a certain artistic mediocrity.
The album gets off to a strong start with “Safe in the Arms of Love”, a bluesy retro-rocker that even my old man would probably tap his foot to. The plaintive “Silver Car” is a piano led ballad with some slide guitar reminiscent of David Gilmour circa Dark Side of the Moon. Certainly Paul Stacey is the key to this album, whose guitar and production techniques make all the difference, giving the LP a warm and accessible sound, most notably on the social-political “Kids that Ain’t Got None”, and acoustically oriented “Untangle My Mind”. Less successful is Robinson’s attempt to impress his (now) former wife with the ridiculous rap of ”Could You Really Love Me?”.
Robinson has never had a problem as a lyricist, and “Fables” is no exception. While not a great song in itself, the production combined with Robinson’s lyrics do manage to command one’s attention. Things pick up with the country-rock of “Sunday Sound”, and then slow down again on the reflective “Barefoot by the Cherry Tree”, where our troubadour is obviously preserving a personal moment in time. “Katie Dear” remains an endearing and delicate paean to his movie-star wife, while the funk-rock explosion of “Ride” is just the sort of song one would expect from a singer fast approaching middle age. “Better than the Sun” is one of those bonged-out hippie numbers we’ve all heard a thousand times before yet can’t get enough of, no matter how often one hears it. The tune segues into the experimental “She’s On Her Way”, a well produced though rather disappointing track, and yet one which grows on you, just like the album as a whole.
New Earth Mud is by no means The Black Crowes, far from it. Mud is full of highlights to be sure, provided one is in the mood. Ultimately it’s perhaps a warm organic cup of tea or quiet gin and tonic in front of an open fire sort of album, an LP which wears its virtues on its sleeves, just the way it ought to be. Not a perfect record by any means, but one well worth investigating all the same.