Former Black Crowes lead singer Chris Robinson has put together a new musical aggregation the Chris Robinson Brotherhood who released two albums last year, including their debut Big Moon Ritual. It's a superb album, Robinson continues to release work that covets the past but he never falls into the trap of being merely a copyist of a genre. Big Moon Ritual has space, lengthy psychedelic jams that are cloaked in the rich sounds of Americana, country soul and the blues. It's relaxed and laid back but incredibly precise musically. Robinson has surrounded himself with some top notch musicians on the album, former Ryan Adams and The Cardinals guitarist Neal Casal provides crisp grooves that float alongside the melodic spaced out notes from keyboardist Adam MacDougall a former Black Crowe himself. George Sluppick who cut his teeth playing with B.B King in Memphis and some time on the road with the likes of Albert King and Waylon Jennings. Bassist Mark Dutton had been with Burning Tree which also featured former Crowes guitarist Marc Ford.
Tulsa Yesterday is a laid back country tune that is given room to roam, the band stretch the song out Casal plays fluid long leads meshing with MacDougall's psychedelic interpretations. Robinson is a great songwriter, one that continues to emerge and enlighten. Tulsa Yesterday seems to reflect the experiences of his life and finds him in a wiser place.
Tulsa Yesterday tomorrow forever,
Today I think I'll take my own sweet time,
You can tell by my blues that I'm no beginner
Or just look into my eyes
I learned my lessons back in the days of the dogwood
Left some footprints in the deep red clay.
Found my past the temptations of plenty
Let the sound take me all the way.
The funky Rosalee has a familiar ring to it, Robinson dips into the well of The Grateful Dead and The Band but gives the song an ethereal twist, there is some nice guitar work from Casal who supplies that funky south of the border string bending twang. It's a song where you can hear how much fun the band are having because it has a natural loose bent to it.
Robinson is a songwriter that's keeping the spirit of Laurel Canyon firmly in front of him, it's a style that is reflective but Robinson adds significant depth with his southern roots, the southern tradition is never far away in his storytelling. It seems sometimes the tales are cloaked in a biblical way for want of a better term, tales of loss and forgiveness, feast and flood he uses different traditions for his songs, it's what makes him such a great songwriter. In Star and Stone he is the unwanted stranger in town confronted with suspicion and hostility but the traveller takes it all in his stride, he may not be where he wants to be but that's ok it's the journey that's important. Once again Casal is right on the money he opens up this ongoing vista with notes floating along an open road. Reflections on a Broken Mirror gives Adam MacDougall room to create spaced out synth sequences that add a dream like quality to the song.
Well you can tell by looking that I'm not like the rest
Sometimes a broken mirror reflects back the best.
Maybe it's that lyric that sums up Robinson the best, at times especially in his early days he was somewhat of an outspoken maverick, critical of commercial sponsorship of tours, a stance that got the Crowes thrown off a tour with headliners ZZ Top in the early 90's. Robinson continues to make music his way, it's honest and for me always interesting and fresh. It seems that there is a new impetus occurring in music, it may come from a familiar place but the spirit is renewed and the music is sounding fresh with passion and vigour. The band released a second album last year, The Magic Door which I'm hoping to get my hands on soon.