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Published: 2014/05/09
by Brian Robbins

Chris Robinson Brotherhood
Phosphorescent Harvest

Silver Arrow

For their third studio outing the Chris Robinson Brotherhood shrugs off their tie-dyed spacewalker suits (as worn for their 2012 debut Big Moon Ritual ) and the Vee-Eff-Dubya-Hall-on-acid vibe of their follow-up, The Magic Door. Phosphorescent Harvest finds CRB clad in comfy flannel shirts, ripped-kneed jeans and scuffed-up cowboy boots, cruising with the top down ‘neath the Californy sun – on their way to grab a rack and a pack of papers at the store.

“Comfy” is the key word here: the boys (bassist Mark Dutton; drummer George Sluppick; Adam MacDougall on keys; Neal Casal on guitars of all sorts; and, of course, Mr. Robinson hisself on vox and guitar) seem to simply be cool with the sum of the parts these days, willing up whatever sound the moments calls for in that moment.

Take the opener “Shore Power”, for instance, which proves CRB can chug it out like Jimmie Vaughan-era Fabulous Thunderbirds, slap the emergency brake on and fishtail the beast right into the marshes of Weirdsville – then bang low gear and take back off on a full-throttle, rockin’ romp. That kind of stuff is second nature to Robinson and company these days; Phosphorescent Harvest documents the fact well.

Where Chris Robinson’s work with the Black Crowes has often been based on killer guitar passages (which one would expect if you were co-writing with your brother Rich, a natural-born riff king if there ever was one), the material on Phosphorescent Harvest is more about moods than six-stringed hooks. Make no mistake: there are plenty of moments of Neal Casal guitar brilliance – but MacDougall plays just as big of a role in setting the stage, painting the backdrops and stepping into the spotlight when needed. Sluppick and Dutton build foundations that range from Spiders From Mars rock ‘n’ roll to soft and gauzy heartbeats; Robinson may be the ringmaster on paper, but here he feels like one of the lads (and liking it).

So here we have the slow, stately waltz of “About A Stranger” (lovely Casal spacetwang solo); the spaghetti western gallop of “Badlands Here We Come” (MacDougall’s keys keep the chick-a-boom from being your everyday chick-a-boom); the sitting-on-the-hood-of-the-old-Trans-Am-staring-into-the-sunset wistfulness of “Tornado” (classic Robinson as country soulman); the big pictures/big sound of “Wanderer’s Lament”; and the Pink Floydian vapors of “Burn Slow”. (Not to mention “Clear Blue Sky & The Good Doctor”, which manages to morph from “Tennessee Jed”-style good-timey bounce to “Wish You Were Here” epicness – in the coolest of manners.)

“Beggar’s Moon” might’ve been conjured up if Robert Hunter had hung out at Big Pink with The Band; “Jump The Turnstiles” and “Meanwhile In The Gods” are packed with street punkiness and swagger that manages to be cool without intimidating; and “Humboldt Windchimes” wraps everything up with a piña colada on the sands of Venus.

No doubt about it – somebody’s having fun here.

*****

Brian Robbins sits on the hood of an old Trans Am over at www.brian-robbins.com – except when it’s raining.

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