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Chris and Rich Robinson Brothers of a Feather: Live at The Roxy

Eagle Vision

Elegant simplicity is the strength of Chris and Rich Robinson’s Brothers of a Feather: Live at the Roxy DVD. Culled from a four night stand at the West Hollywood venue during their April 2006 acoustic tour, the evening is more boiled down country soul than freaky rock’n roll. The material still has that classic Black Crowes swagger, only Chris isn’t fighting to be heard over the amplifiers and Rich’s guitar work isn’t buried in a wall of riffs. Though sax player Dave Ellis and Crowes’ backup singers Charity White and Mona Lisa Young help the Robinsons out on a few tunes, the brothers are the obvious center of attention. Sitting on two wooden chairs with only a coat rack between them, the camera keeps them in tight focus, revealing a subtle sibling language of nods and looks. The rich, overly saturated colors of the stage lights put the two in a colored haze, giving the performance a slow, stoney quality that would have been destroyed by frenetic camera work or high-definition clarity.

Hands down, the best song of the set is a cover of Jon Martyn’s “Over the Hill.” The brothers, both on guitar, bring an urgency and ragged soul to this tune about wanting to get off of the road. A cover of Lowell George’s “Roll um Easy” is a pared down revelation with Chris on vocals, Rich playing slide on a worn telecaster, and Charity and Mona Lisa singing backup. “Cold Boy Smile” and “Magic Rooster Blues,” the first new Robinson/Robinson songs in six years, are promising. “Cold Boy Smile” is the slower of the two, and though beautiful, feels as though it needs time to grow. “Magic Rooster Blues” is a livelier, psychedelic blues in an open tuning that already seems like a well-worn part of the catalog. Longtime fans won’t be disappointed with classics such as “Horsehead” and “Cursed Diamond.” Mona Lisa and Charity’s contributions to the gorgeous “Bring On Bring On,” had me revisiting this original version on Three Snakes and a Charm.

The solo songs in the set give a quick guide to the magic of the Robinson/Robinson writing team, as the weakness in one brother’s solo work is a strength in the other’s. Chris’ “Someday Past the Sunset” is straightforward boogie folk rock that makes you feel like dancing, but the song never really goes anywhere. It begs for a B section to break things up and give the listener the satisfaction of coming back to the boogie. On the other hand, Rich’s “Leave It Alone” feels like one glorious, escalating B section that never gains any dancing momentum. But whatever structural shortfalls the songs have, the actual performances were beautiful and restrained, with each brother paying close attention to the other, looking for cues and being extra careful not to step on the other’s toes.

The only real complaint about the DVD is a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” that was so cheesy I couldn’t get through it. But that’s it. Absent are the frenetic camera work and distracting lights that bring out my own ADD in so many other DVDs. In fact, I was able to sit down and watch the thing in one whole sitting, which is no small feat. But what ultimately makes the DVD so engaging, aside from the brothers’ obvious talents as musicians, is the hunger they bring to the material. Despite selling fifteen million albums over the course of their careers, nothing is certain anymore in Crowes land, especially with the recent dissolution of their classic lineup. If Live At the Roxy proves anything, it is that after all these years, the Robinson brothers still have the fire, drive, and heart to make engaging music.

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