That Fillmore vibe
Chris Robinson Brotherhood settles into that vintage groove
The Chris Robinson Brotherhood started as the back-up plan for its bandleader. While Chris found enormous commercial success alongside his younger brother Rich in The Black Crowes, personal dynamics within the group coupled with the pressure of music industry expectations led to the fracturing of the band and eventually its dissolution in 2015.
But with plan B in place since 2011, the Brotherhood gave the Georgia native the outlet for continuing to seek creative satisfaction on his own terms. What started out as a loose string of West Coast live shows eventually coalesced into a full-fledged band.
“I had this music and the songs were piling up,” Robinson said during a recent interview. “[Keyboardist] Adam MacDougall and I were on The Black Crowes tour together during those last few years, in dressing rooms and hotel rooms with guitar and piano putting together a little repertoire of songs. We did this knowing that The Black Crowes were this dysfunctional weird thing, which was nothing new. So it was a pragmatic thing, too. I wanted to get out and do something new and different.
“As time goes on, I’m super happy and comfortable with the Chris Robinson Brotherhood,” Robinson added. “I’m writing all these songs that don’t sound like what I’m famous for singing. They’re not hard-rock riff-oriented songs and it’s not a band with this rigid [approach] where everybody was wanting to suck as much money out of it as possible.”
The band is currently on the road in support of 2017’s Barefoot in the Head. For Robinson, the fifth full-length was a chance to get a little rootsier with the material he was penning while on tour.
“I just had my acoustic guitar and these more folky/country [tunes] and that was the idea. When we went in to make Barefoot in the Head, I didn’t want any instruments that we used before, or anything that we played on tour,” he said. “We had different amps and guitars and I wanted us to play a lot of acoustic instruments. But I’m very lucky because [drummer] Tony [Leone] is a good mandolin player. [Guitarist] Neal [Casal] plays a myriad of acoustic instruments and [bassist] Jeff [Hill] as well. We were able to have a lot of texture and color that way.”
The end result is a nod to the late-1960s/early 1970s roots-rock of Manassas, Poco and Buffalo Springfield. The dreamy psychedelia of the track “Glow,” with its sitar nuances, contrasts with funky opener “Behold the Seer” and its generous helpings of clavinet and wah-wah guitar effects. And the romantic “She Shares My Blanket,” which benefits from a wistful vibe fueled by some saloon-flavored piano runs and a few dollops of pedal steel, complements “High Is Not the Top,” a snappy, old-timey romp that bounces with both banjo and harp.
Robinson and band were so inspired during the Barefoot sessions that they already have another album in the can that’s set to drop in 2019. But for now, playing live is the main concern.
“What I’m most proud of is that [the live show is] a very positive and welcoming [experience]. Chris Robinson [Brotherhood] is a fun band,” Robinson said, “We’re songwriters and that’s our craft, but the thing is how do you do that and keep everyone dancing? We get to throw in a few sad ones, here and there. But that’s what we do, man. … If you’ve never been to California, you’ll know what Saturday night at The Fillmore auditorium in San Francisco feels like. That’s what we kind of shoot for, where everyone is involved.”