Brotherly love doesn’t immediately come to mind when you think of Chris Robinson. Back in January 2015 he had a publicly aired dispute with his brother, Rich, that led to what’s being called the permanent break-up of the multi-platinum-selling blues-rock outfit the Black Crowes. When recently asked if the Crowes would ever reunite, Robinson succinctly told Rolling Stone, “No, never.”
With his old group in the rearview, Robinson has been focusing full time on a project that he debuted during a Crowes hiatus in 2011, the Chris Robinson Brotherhood. In the band, Robinson indulges in expansive psychedelic rock. He’s less the wiry, dancing front man that he was in the Crowes and more a bandleader, still driving songs with his husky, soulful vocals, but also getting lost in extended grooves while strumming an electric guitar.
Robinson is a well-known Deadhead with a history of collaborating with Grateful Dead members Bob Weir and Phil Lesh, and earlier this year he started hosting a show on SiriusXM satellite radio called Gurus Galore that focuses on obscure psychedelic music. It’s clear that Robinson has no commercial ambitions. He’s conquered that arena, and now he’s cool with searching for a more experimental sound, even if it’s in front of smaller crowds.
On July 29 the Brotherhood will release its fourth studio album, Anyway You Love, We Know How You Feel. The effort was made at a mountainside studio in Marin County, California, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The natural surroundings clearly inspired a relaxed energy during the recording session, as most tracks wander in a vintage rock wilderness for around seven minutes, letting Robinson’s highly skilled bandmates cut loose. Album opener “Narcissus Soaking Wet” is a dance-ready soul cruiser fueled by the funky 70s-style synthesizer work of keyboardist Adam MacDougall, while lead guitarist Neal Casal—a former sideman for Ryan Adams—proves to be a versatile weapon throughout all eight tracks. He adds tradition-minded fire power to the blues jam “Leave My Guitar Alone,” and solos with the heartfelt melodic flair of Jerry Garcia in the cosmic ballad “Some Gardens Green.”
The real standout, though, is “Ain’t It Hard But Fair,” a jangly country-flavored rocker that finds Robinson giving his best Mick Jagger attitude to the catchy chorus line, “Gonna have a good time when we get there.” It’s some of that old Black Crowes mojo shining through Robinson’s forays into sonic haze.
The Chris Robinson Brotherhood perform at Greenfield Lake Amphitheatre in Wilmington, N.C., on July 23, the Norva in Norfolk, Va., on July 24, and at the Lockn’ Music Festival in Arrington, Va., on August 28.
The New Mastersounds Funk Up Nashville
Late last year U.K. retro funk-soul quartet the New Mastersounds stopped by Nashville’s Welcome to 1979 studio, after finishing an extensive fall/winter tour, to record live in front of a small audience. The resulting record, The Nashville Session, features fresh versions of original tunes from the veteran group’s catalog that spans over 16 years and 10 studio albums.
The band’s roots go back to the late 90s, when guitarist and bandleader Eddie Roberts assembled a crew to provide live music in between DJ sets at a club in Leeds. With plenty of chops, the band quickly proved capable of offering hot homages to obvious influences like funk pioneers the Meters and jazz-groove organist Jimmy Smith. Line-ups have evolved through the years, but Roberts has continued to push his band’s sound forward.
On the new record, the Meters influence can be especially heard on the track “Burnt Back,” which showcases the Mastersounds as masters of the funk turnaround. The Nashville Session also features a loose take on James Brown’s “In The Middle,” a version that doesn’t breathe like jazz guitarist Grant Green’s effort, but rather remains consistent with the album’s blistery tempo.
With Welcome to 1979’s analog equipment, the band was recorded directly to one-inch magnetic tape, transferred to ¼-inch stereo tape, and then cut straight onto vinyl lacquers without any overdubs—a perfect way to capture a seasoned live band gelling at the end of a long tour.
The album was initially released with a limited run of 1,000 copies on vinyl, a nice touch considering the spontaneity of the recording session. The vinyl copies sold out quickly, but the album has since been released digitally and can be grabbed via the band’s record label, Royal Potato Family (royalpotatofamily.com).