Barefoot In The Head by Chris Robinson BrotherhoodRelease date: July 21, 2017
Label: Silver Arrow Records
The demise of The Black Crowes may have robbed us of one of the great revisionist rock bands of the last 20 or so years, but in doing so it also opened up new possibilities in music. Whilst Rich Robinson took the solo artist root before settling with new band Magpie Salute, it has been his brother Chris who has benefited most from a new-found freedom. Left to explore his own dreams of music, and using the template set out by The Grateful Dead, he has slowly been releasing a body of work which is simply remarkable. Yes, its revisionist again, but outside of the confines of The Black Crowes, there’s been an eclectic edge which has developed into something quite special.
That eclectic edge is even more to the fore on new album Barefoot In The Head, and marks a move on from a more psychedelic jam band approach to the classic song-writing of the great American rock songbook. Almost as if the 60’s have been laid to rest, Chris Robinson Brotherhood hit the 70’s with a set of songs which positively bounce from the speakers, albeit in a trademark chilled out way.
Positively bouncing is one way to describe opening track ‘Behold The Seer’ and you will struggle to find a more upbeat start to an album this year. Full of Stevie Wonder vocal inflections and cavorting harmonies, even the harmonica solo sounds like its ripped straight from Songs In The Key Of Life. It’s a joyous exclamation of life and reconciles that positive vibe that Chris Robinson exudes these days in a four minute track.
That sense of classic song-writing continues on the lovely ‘She Shares My Blanket’, a wonderful piano led number which belies the rather hippy dippy sentimentality beneath. There’s a playfulness about it all too which really comes to the fore on the scat-like vocal of ‘Hark, The Herald Hermit Speaks’, a song which sounds like something Dylan may have written on one of his more upbeat and surreal days. Musically the piano is leading once again but this time it’s filled with glorious psychedelic phrases.
As this is a Chris Robinson Brotherhood album them cosmic feels are never too far away and the downbeat ‘Blonde Light Of The Morning’ becomes that moment when they stretch the music out into space. It’s a song which begs for repeated listens and behind the yearning vocals, there is a dense swirl of music capturing Cosmic Americana at its best. It’s a fine mix of 60’s psych, country and folk which seems to capture the whole essence of the album.
After a jaunty ‘Blue Star Woman’, that country feeling comes back on the excellent ‘High Is Not The Top’ which starts like some sort of hoe-down but ends as a kind of sermon of love, peace and understanding. There’s a distinct hint of marijuana smoke too and one gets the feeling that they may well have imbibed in some of those old honey slides that Neil Young and co were so enraptured on during the On The Beach sessions. In fact if there was ever an older relative to this album it would be that classic in the Young catalogue.
Robinson is not as wayward as Young though and whilst he may experiment with a sitar feel on ‘Glow’ its on the epic ballad of ‘If You Had A Heart To Break’ which he really excels. After all, the best Black Crowes songs were when they relaxed and let the music flow through them. Robinson does it here to stunning effect and you feel the years stripped away as the music takes you back to that timeless moment when all that matters is the song, the highway and the girl by your side.
Rarely has an artist of such longevity sounded so invigorated as Chris Robinson does on this album. Behind its laid back feel is a bunch of songs which touch on all the tenets of Americana and in another time this album would be huge. Those days are gone though, but at least for some of us we can appreciate the finer points of song-writing and allow the music to take us away from all our troubles. There are moments on this album which are simply transcendental, and whilst it may take a few listens to truly appreciate what we have, once the songs open to you they will stay with you forever. By this reckoning Chris Robinson is just hitting his stride, and for that we can be grateful.