Review: ‘Servants of the Sun’ rises brilliantly on the horizon
Psychedelic-Filling-In-A-Folk-Blues-Pie California rockers Chris Robinson Brotherhood released their latest record, “Servants of the Sun,” on June 14, 2019, via Silver Arrow Records. The new album comes on the heels of the news that the band has decided to take a hiatus after July, and that founding member Adam MacDougall has parted ways with the band.
“Servants of the Sun” serves up 10 new songs by the Brotherhood, a band I have been a huge fan of over the years, having seen them 50-plus times in concert since their inception in 2011. The lineup on the album is Chris Robinson (vocals/guitar), Neal Casal (guitar/harmonies), Adam MacDougall (keyboards/harmonies), Tony Leone (drums), and Jeff Hill (bass/harmonies).
The record leads off taking a quick left turn with “Some Earthly Delights.” MacDougall immediately makes his presence known with psychedelic space-jam keyboards throughout. It kinda reminds me of the first time I heard “Good To Know,” which is the last song on the previous CRB album, “Barefoot In The Head.” Feels like a different vibe to me than most of the CRB catalog, but I like it as a change of pace. It’s got a little “Vibration & Light Suite” in it too, but it’s definitely its own song. There’s a CRB trademark well-placed bridge, with rock guitar licks from Casal. We’re off to a good start.
“Let it Fall” is next, which I reviewed for the recent CRB Record Store Day 10-inch picture disc release HERE: Short story – good road song.
“Rare Birds” is a song I’ve heard a few times live now. In fact, I was at the show they played it at initially, Marty’s On Newport in Orange County, last July. Good song. Killer, classic CRB one-chord jam. So far, the first three songs are up tempo and rocking. I dig that.
We’re still rocking with “Venus In Chrome,” another song that’s been around at the live shows for a bit. I liked it since the first time I heard it in Big Sur a couple of years ago. Nice singalong chorus, cool sub-hook riff. Live, they often start “Rare Birds” and jam it into “Vibration & Light” and then into “Venus In Chrome” for a good half an hour.
Suddenly, the tangerine nature of the fact that I’ve already likely seen my last CRB show for awhile (and the last with Adam) is sinking in. Ultimately, I’m grateful for the unforgettable memories and good times with so many incredible people, along with the soundtrack of the last 10 years of my life.
Next, we’ve got a brand-new song, “Stars Fell On California.” Heady title, to start. Also, our first ballad. CRB has the distinction, in my eyes, of having one of the deepest collection of ballads for a band I’ve ever heard. I’m going to cheat a little and also count Robinson’s New Earth Mud songs that CRB has made their own since the beginning at their much-heralded live shows.
Think about it though – “Star or Stone,” “100 Days of Rain,” “Beware, Oh Take Care,” “Appaloosa” (Black Crowes song to be sure, but it’s on “The Magic Door”), “Sorrows Of A Blue Eyed Liar,” “Wheel Don’t Roll,” “Burn Slow”, “Tornado,” (also Crowes, but unreleased for many years) “Shadow Cosmos,” “Blonde Light of Morning,” “Glow,” and then we’ve got the New Earth Mud tunes — “Tumbleweed In Eden,” “Silver Car,” “Girl On A Mountain,” “Train Robbers”… I’m running out of breath. Almost every ballad the guy’s written for these projects is a classic! “Sweet Sweet Lullaby,” “If You Had A Heart To Break,” and “Wanderer’s Lament” ain’t bad, either. If you’re ever going to remember one thing about Chris Robinson, remember this – the guy can write a ballad with the absolute best of ‘em, and at a freakishly (see what I did there?) high clip. Timeless. Legendary. Some of the best of all-time. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-worthy (if that means anything anymore). “Stars Fell On California” is a strong new one. Not as strong as “Dice Game,” but strong.
Next, we’re “Comin ‘Round The Mountain,” which I also wrote about in the aforementioned RSD release article.
“The Chauffeur’s Daughter” is a really well-done song. Good imagery in the lyrics, and it’s even got that “L.A. Woman” – kinda vibe with the outro groove. Nice sub hooks from Casal on guitar. Robinson is in love, and he wrote a very cool number about it.
As I outlined in the RSD release article where “Dice Game” is on the 10-inch picture disc… this song remains my favorite as I listen to the full-length “Servants of the Sun.” If CRB is leaving us forever, or even just for a little bit, they have given us one more absolute classic. Brilliant singing with accompanying harmonies, moody, melancholic guitar licks. The outro bridge sounds like an adult, occult, psychedelic hippie lullaby. I’m knocked out. Robinson delivers fluid Topanga Canyon-like imagery with his colorful lyrics, rustic-but-finessed vocal tone, and cosmic melodies. Casal steals the performance with his Faces-like (Lane songs, specifically), Ron Wood-esque slide guitar, and market leader vocal harmonies.
“A Madder Rose Interlude” is exactly that – a short interlude between songs, something that would never be played live. A moody texture.
The album (and maybe the band’s catalog?) ends with “A Smiling Epitaph.” How’s that for putting a cherry on the bittersweet sundae? It’s a good song, too. Very interesting, exploratory chord changes. CRB bid us farewell with a sun-kissed California touch, peeking through the misty Marin fog. Esoterica, California is blooming. What’s next for Chris Robinson, and CRB?
I give “Servants of the Sun” 4.5 out of 5 whiskey shots, or 4.5 out of 5 Pliny the Youngers, if you are speaking Chris Robinson’s language. Keep writing Chris. We’ll keep listening.
— Jon Siembieda
Chris Robinson Brotherhood|‘Servants of the Sun’Label: Silver Arrow Records
Released: June 14, 2019
ABOUT Jon Siembieda
Writer Jon Siembieda plays guitar in the Southern California-based touring rock 'n' roll band Hunter & The Dirty Jacks. He is an avid concertgoer and album collector. His top five favorite bands are The Rolling Stones, Black Crowes, Faces, Mother Hips and Chris Robinson Brotherhood.
Remember when you were young,
you shone like the sun.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
Now there's a look in your eyes,
like black holes in the sky.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
You were caught in the crossfire
of childhood and stardom,
blown on the steel breeze.