Cosmic cool: Chris Robinson Brotherhood’s heady new album

Jay Blakesburg
The Chris Robinson Brotherhood at Stinson Beach.
Photo by Jay Blakesburg

Cosmic boogie wanderers The Chris Robinson Brotherhood have never been ones to gather moss.

The outfit has traveled tens of thousands of miles bringing its transcendental, Cali-bred psychedelic rock across the country to adoring fans since its inception in 2011, having grown into a spiritual compadre to The Grateful Dead. The band has churned out studio recordings and live albums at a consistent clip, with its brand new album “Barefoot In The Head” being its third release in the last two years, after ‘Any Way You Love, We Know How You Feel,’ and its follow up EP, ‘If You Lived Here, You Would Be Home By Now.” Singer Chris Robinson has been on a creative journey with CRB that keeps coming across these musical vistas of lush detail that demand you to stop in take in the view, and “Barefoot In The Head” is the band’s most stunning stop so far.

The latest release continues to pass through CRB’s heady, wide-open landscape of redwood blues jaunts, rolling country jams and sprawling psych-folk. It makes sense, as the singer began writing “Barefoot In The Head” quickly after those sessions were recorded, having been inspired by the band’s new creative space called Brotherhood Arts Laboratory.

The musician has described the studio as being in “Unicorn, California” and its mountain-side location overlooking the Pacific Ocean certainly lent itself to being a unique, creative paradise for Robinson and his musical brethren, guitarist Neal Casal, drummer Tony Leone, keyboardist Adam MacDougall, and bassist Jeff Hill. Together, they left the jams for the live audiences and concentrated their pastoral good vibes into four- and five-minute sonic tinctures that leave you with the warm buzz of life.

Tahoe Onstage
“CRB’s “Barefoot in the Head” was released on Friday.

The album kicks off with the sunny-day, funk jangle “Behold The Seer.” MacDougall and Casal’s swampy interplay is the song’s musical heart while Robinson provides its carefree spirit, singing, “There’s still lessons in these blues, we’re still free to choose, so put on your dancing shoes” over a chorus of “la-la-a’s.” “She Shares My Blanket” is a earnest tale of lovers sharing passions and memories in a snowed-in wonderland, a rambling, country-soul companion to Van Morrison’s “I Wanna Roo You.”

The band has always been a very complementary outfit, each member weaving his unique colors into the vivid tapestry of the band’s sound. After six years of rigorous touring and jamming CRB is as cohesive as it’s ever been and “Barefoot In The Head” bears that magical fruit of their labor.

“Hark The Emerald Hermit Speaks” is a delicious slice of life with Robinson’s stream-of-consciousness poetry floating on Casal’s golden licks, MacDougall’s shimmering piano and the gentle evergreen rhythm of Leone and Hill. Focusing its cosmic power to the horizon, CRB creates a humming glow of acoustic psychedelia in “Dog Eat Sun” that passes through the senses as lucid and brief as a solar flare skipping across your eyes.

The pinnacle of the album lies in its final couplet, the bucolic “Glow” and fizzy “Good To Know.” Robinson said the take that ended up on the album of “Glow,” only the band’s second take live, is “one of the most special things I’ve ever done in the studio.” It’s not hard to see why he thinks that, with guest sarodist Alam Khan and Casal’s ethereal picking billowing around Robinson’s whimsical scenes of love. It’s quite a moving piece of art that taps into every person’s desire to find a love as easy and free as the one Robinson sings about. “Good To Know” is the blissful conclusion to the album’s satisfying journey. You can feel gravity shedding off your soul as MacDougall’s worbles echo over Casal’s atmospheric drips and Robinson’s psych-steady melody.

It’s a consuming experience that has you reflecting on both the day’s journey and the ones ahead. For The Chris Robinson Brotherhood, they wouldn’t want to take you anywhere else and “Barefoot In The Head” is the band’s new peak, though there are certainly more to scale with this band.

-Garrett Bethmann

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Tahoe Onstage is an online entertainment and sports magazine covering Lake Tahoe, Truckee, Reno, the Carson Valley and June Lake.

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