Live at the Roxy – Brothers of a Feather (Chris and Rich Robinson)
How the passing of time changes things. It was only a decade ago when The Black Crowes were consistently putting out blues-based rock albums, with a hint of jamming psychedelia, yet finding it harder and harder to get noticed by record buyers. What’s worse, I recall the band’s headlining slot on the second installment of the Furthur Festival leading to scores of concertgoers heading for the exits early. Following its re-introduction to the public with a string of dates in New York in 2005, the Crowes have been viewed more in awe-inspiring language. The band hasn’t changed a thing, only what makes up its setlist, yet they attracted a resurgence from a new crowd with a better understanding of what the band had been doing since its sophomore effort, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion.
A live Crowes album, Freak n’ Roll… Into the Fog, chronicled this new chapter in the band’s life. Now there’s Live at the Roxy, which finds brothers Chris and Rich Robinson in the midst of their three-night stand at Los Angeles’s historic Roxy. That date was part of a brief tour the two put together sans band, which focused on minimalist takes in acoustic or electric settings.
The idea of only the brothers playing together doesn’t have a sense of freshness, since the two have been doing an acoustic version of “She Talks to Angels” since the band’s 1990 debut. It’s more like, It’s about time!’ The other element presented by these shows is that the fighting-like-brothers approach to working together must have hit a peace accord. On the negative side, Chris and Rich are joined by two back-up singers on the opener, “Horsehead,” and later on “Thorn in My Pride.” The former number sounds as if the Robinsons are attempting to do a show minus a rhythm section rather than embracing the evening’s format. While the added voices on the Lowell George-penned “Roll Um Easy,” works much better, their presence is unnecessary in this stripped-down atmosphere. The blend of Chris’s rich, soulful tone with Rich’s more angular twang work quite well together (see “Leave It Alone” as one major example), and need little adornment to flourish.
But I’ll overlook the debits of “Horsehead,” and view it for what it is – a rollicking set opener that bridges for the audience a move from The Black Crowes jamming blues rock mojo to the upcoming trip ahead featuring obscure Crowe tunes (“Darling of the Underground”), new songs (“Magic Rooster Blues” “Cold Boy Smile”), Chris and Rich solo numbers and covers of John Martyn, Little Feat, Gene Clark and Tom Rush. Without getting too gossipy, one can’t help but wonder whether some of the material’s sense of heartache correlates to the separation of Chris from his wife, Kate Hudson, a few months after these shows. “Cursed Diamond” and “My Heart’s Been Killing Me” resonate due to the dissolution of his marriage.
After the minor hiccup of track one, the Robinsons get into a place that’s equal parts folk, country and blues that’s spread out with a history of rock n’ roll running through their veins. Witness the Jimmy Page-like chords during the solo on “Leave It Alone” and lengthy, intense jam during “Thorn in My Pride,” which gracefully moves more into the trance spirit of the Grateful Dead than any amount of Steal Your Face patches worn on Chris’s jeans ever did. Surprisingly, “She Talks to Angels” doesn’t make it on the final tracklist. You won’t miss it.