Ex-Crowes frontman keeps the hippie vibes alive
The Chris Robinson Brotherhood have been going for several years now, incessantly touring and recording at a pace that would put many other bands half their age to shame. That The Black Crowes have decided to call it final quits is almost akin to Jerry Garcia announcing that he was forever leaving The Grateful Dead, to remain a cosmic solo artist. But that appears to be exactly what Chris Robinson has decided to do – namely focus on a creative life that is part deliberate and part liberating – walking away from the commercial expectations of his former band, and thus free himself to explore new horizons.
The CRB’s debut, 2012’s Big Moon Ritual, was the singer’s strongest declaration yet, an album wrapped in the psychedelic cloth of The Grateful Dead, early Pink Floyd, along with a smattering of Gram Parsons and Skip Spence tossed in for good measure, making it one of the most endurable, albeit anachronistic, statements of that year. However with each release since the band has proved that there is intent behind the playing, that here is a gathering of musicians who are determined to turn you on to something far more organic and communal.
Opener “Narcissus Soaking Wet” is a case in point, all floating funky keyboard and wah wah guitar straight out of the ‘70s, including some harmonica courtesy of Innervisions. Robinson delves into Dylan territory on the trippy “Forever as the Moon,” before venturing off into the funk side of the moon with “Ain’t It Hard But Fair,” on which guitarist Neal Casal (one of the last original members of the band) manages to reinvent himself as a modern day Jerry Garcia.
“Give Us Back Our Eleven Days” and “Some Gardens Green” are further evidence of the CRB’s devotion to expanding the listener’s mind via the conduits of musical nostalgia, establishing that one needn’t reinvent the wheel in order to have a good time. References to The Grateful Dead abound on the rollicking “Leave My Guitar Alone,” a tune that would not seem out of place on Europe ’72, or perhaps any other Dead album for that matter, while “Oak Apple Day” is a laissez-faire composition accented by keyboards straight out of a ‘50s sci-fi film, during which Robinson implores the listener to “relax your mind”.
The album concludes with the country-rock of “California Hymn,” a pleasant tune that harkens back to early ‘70s Eagles/Little Feat, and therefore not all that difficult to enjoy as a consequence.
They say that familiarity breeds contempt; however my own view is that on this record, familiarity is the key to its success. That they repeat the same old sounds without ever sounding clichéd is proof enough of their talent and experience. Let us hope that their long strange trip continues for some time to come.