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Published: 2012/07/11
by Sam Robertson

Chris Robinson Brotherhood
Big Moon Ritual

Silver Arrow Records

You can almost smell the fresh marijuana burning in the studio as Chris Robinson and Neal Casal kick off the Chris Robinson Brotherhood’s debut album with haunting, atmospheric guitar licks. After a couple minutes of psychedelic weirdness, the full band kicks into the lazy summer day rock and roll of “Tulsa Yesterday,” the opening track of their debut, Big Moon Ritual. Robinson sings a couple verses, but then the band launches back into outer space, fueled by Casal’s soaring lead guitar. Casal, who manned lead guitar for Ryan Adams & The Cardinals, is no stranger to impressive guitar solos, but the Chris Robinson Brotherhood’s exploratory jams find his playing at an entirely new level.

And Casal isn’t the only one who has stepped up his game in this new band. Here’s a secret that The Black Crowes managed to obscure during their twenty years together – Chris Robinson is a pretty good guitar player himself. Mixing creative rhythm playing with even the occasional solo, Robinson, who is generally known for his voice exclusively, reveals himself to be a talented all around musician with the Chris Robinson Brotherhood. Just listen to his spacey solo in “Tulsa Yesterday” before Casal leaps in with a smoldering explosion of notes, as the two trade licks in a dizzying jam that would have made 1973 Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia jealous.

“Rosalee” comes next with fine vocals from Robinson and a funky electric piano riff from Adam McDougall before the catchy, upbeat rocker suddenly takes a turn towards the weird. After a spacey interlude, Robinson repeatedly sings “Is the air getting thinner, are we getting high?” as McDougall’s slinky piano returns and he and Casal propel the song back towards rock and roll, finally bringing the expedition to a close after nine wild minutes.

“Star Or Stone,” a rolling ballad that also tops the nine-minute mark, follows and features Robinson’s soulful voice at its absolute best, effectively complimented by soothing “oooh” harmonies. Casal’s tender playing then sneaks into the spotlight, and surfing over the band like a gentle wave, his solo slowly builds into a flourish of transcendental peaks. “Beware, Oh Take Care,” is another highlight, with dusty harmonies from Robinson’s bandmates and more shimmering, acid-washed lead guitar work from Casal.

With the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Robinson, the howling rock and roll star himself, is a bit mellowed out. Nothing on the album rocks with anything close to the intensity that The Black Crowes often created, but this band has a different vision. The Chris Robinson Brotherhood is at their best on ballads with a relaxed tempo, as they approach every song with patience, giving the music plenty of time to breathe and develop organically.

With all seven songs on the album clocking in at over seven minutes, Big Moon Ritual is an album for lovers of psychedelic rock highlighted by a healthy dose of guitar. But this isn’t just some loose jam session. After forming in early 2011, Chris Robinson Brotherhood hit the road and didn’t stop, honing this brand new material nightly towards perfection before entering the recording studio. And with heavenly, sparkling guitars, sunny California harmonies, a rock solid rhythm section and Robinson’s voice as soulful and stirring as ever, it is scary how close to perfection the fully gelled band gets with Big Moon Ritual. With an inspired Robinson penning tons of new material, the band has already recorded a second album due in the fall, and perhaps The Black Crowes hiatus will continue slightly longer than expected as this band feels built to last.

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