Dead-like demand leads to Chris Robinson Brotherhood collaboration with engineer Betty Cantor-Jackson

Chris Robinson Brotherhood
Chris Robinson Brotherhood photo by Angela Izzo

The Chris Robinson Brotherhood has been spreading its mystic psych-boogie music across the shores, mountain ranges and deserts of the West Coast since its formation in 2011. From the beginning, the band has placed a high importance on curating a solid live show that is based on emotion and in-the-moment musicianship. The band’s expeditious live shows have created a Deadhead-like demand for live recordings, which is appropriate seeing that legendary Grateful Dead recording engineer Betty Cantor-Jackson is behind the band’s latest live release.

On June 2, the bond between the Grateful Dead and the Chris Robinson Brotherhood will strengthen, as the band will add another installment of its “Betty’s Blends” series with “Betty’s Blends, Vol. Two: Best From The West” from Silver Arrow Records. The CRB are just now starting out a West Coast run of shows that took it through Nevada City on May 5 at the Miners Foundry Cultural Center. CRB guitarist Neal Casal recently spoke with Tahoe Onstage over phone about the upcoming release and what people should expect when they catch the band live.

One of the people responsible for the Grateful Dead’s fanatic taper community is Betty Cantor-Jackson, who recorded the band during a prolific time between 1971-1980. The Betty Boards, as they have become to be known, are some of the most valued recordings in circulation.

Casal called her, “A major pioneer for women in music,” for her work with the Grateful Dead as both a live music and recording engineer. A mutual appreciation for each other’s work led to Cantor-Jackson and the band teaming up for 2013’s “Betty’s S.F. Blends, Volume One.”

“We want to try and make this a tradition for the band … to respect her, shed more light on Betty and shed light on her history and her body of work to show respect to someone who really deserves it,”Casal said.

“Betty’s Blends, Vol. Two: Best From The West” is a terrific addition to the series and is a comprehensive sampling of what the band can do live. Instead of releasing one stand-alone show like the first “Betty’s Blend” installment, the band culled performances from a number of shows on its Western 2014 summer tour. The seven-song album takes cuts off of all the band’s three albums, including the recently released “Phosphorescent Harvest.” Casal noted that the band was really confident and enthusiastic during this time about the music they were playing. The band was high from releasing a new album and Casal felt like everyone was responding to the energy of beginning from a fresh start.

Photo by Piper Ferguson
Neal Casal rocks with the Chris Robinson Brotherhood.
Photo by Piper Ferguson

Casal sat through the masters process with Betty and helped a little with choosing the tunes selected for the album. In reviewing the album, he noted the “very good” version of “Rosealee” and a “cosmic” take on “Burn Slow” as personal highlights, and believed the recording of  “Vibration & Light Suite” “captured one of the best performances we’ve ever put down for that one.”

Another song that makes an appearance on the album is the wandering “Tumbleweed in Eden,” which has been a part of the band’s repertoire since the beginning and is getting its first official release.

“That turns out to be one of those songs that endures in our sets. Some songs are there for a while and they kind of fall off the radar, for whatever reason, it is hard to predict. And other tunes prove to be more durable and have a timeless quality, a lasting quality and ‘Tumbleweed in Eden’ is just one of those songs we just enjoy playing.There is a certain flexibility in that song,” said Casal.

Casal revealed the band is in the process of writing a new record and will have some new material to include in the upcoming spring and summer tours and look forward to shaping the new songs on the road.

“One of the things fans can expect is to hear some new tunes because we are working on new songs. We are the kind of band that works its songs out live, in front of people. We’ll have a song that is not all the way there yet, we’ll try it out in front of people and it helps us to know what works and what doesn’t, and finish the song basically,” Casal said.

After the release of “Betty’s Blends, Vol. Two: Best From The West,” the band will tour along the East Coast from New York to Arkansas. On the tail-end of that run, the band will have the privilege of joining Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh at the Lockn’ Music Festival in Virginia on Sept. 10. Casal was happy about the opportunity to play with Lesh and prepared for the adventure that comes with it.

“I have no idea what kind of material we are going to be playing at Lockn.’ As is the case with Phil a lot of times, there is very little preparation. Playing with Phil is based on a whole lot  spontaneity, creativity, in-the-moment playing and you gotta bring your bravery and a really adventurous spirit to shows. With Phil, any type of fear or trepidation or tentativeness has to be thrown out the window and you gotta kinda leap off with him. … It is not so much about preparation as a sense of adventure,” said Casal.

One can only hope this collaboration will be caught by Betty’s boards.

  • Chris Robinson Brotherhood on tour
    May 5 – Nevada City, CA – Miners Foundry Cultural Center
    May 6 – Arcata, CA – Humboldt Brews
    May 8 – Bend, OR – The Domino Room
    May 9 – Seattle, WA – Neumos
    May 10 – Portland, OR – Revolution Hall
    May 12 – Salt Lake City, UT – The State Room
    May 13 – Salt Lake City, UT – The State Room
    May 15 – Denver, CO – Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom
    May 16 – Denver, CO – Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom
    May 17 – Bellevue, CO – Mishawaka Amphitheater
    May 22 – N. Lawrence, OH – The Ville
    May 29 – San Diego, CA – North Park Observatory
    May 31 – Napa, CA – BottleRock Festival
    June 19 – Steamboat Springs, CO – Steamboat Free Summer Concert Series
    July 10 – Summit Point, WV – All Good Music Festival
    July 11 – Marshfield, MA – Levitate Music Festival
    July 17 – Lowell, MA – Lowell Summer Concert Series
    Jul 25 – Floyd, VA – FloydFest

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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