Chris Robinson Brotherhood : The Magic Door

Written by Tom Speed

October 18, 2012

Early in the career of the Black Crowes, Chris Robinson and his compatriots were often accused of simply rehashing familiar rock tropes of the 1970s by reworking riffs and stealing sounds from the Stones and Faces. Over the years, they proved those accusations shallow by creating standout works of their own and establishing a legacy that proved that, while they may have been pulling from the same well, they were producing their own distinct shine.

Nearly 30 years later, while the Crowes are on indefinite hiatus, Robinson is fronting another band that might be similarly indicted by some, only this time, this group is mining the same territory as spacey, laid-back brethren such as Pink Floyd and the Grateful Dead. And like those shallow critics of a few decades prior, the accusations fall flat upon attentive listening to The Magic Door, the Chris Robinson Brotherhood’s follow-up to their debut Big Moon Ritual, released just three months ago. These comparisons do at least serve as a guidepost, for they almost certainly served as inspiration.

It’s also notable that, unlike previous solo releases, these two recent records have been credited to a band name, the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, because in approach and delivery, this is very much a band. The interplay between players is intricate and patient. The big name frontman allows the other players to share and even steal the spotlight. The collaborative enthusiasm is palpable.

Guitarist Neal Casal, previously of Ryan Adams’ Cardinals, inhabits a languid exploratory style that captures the easy grace of Jerry Garcia on tunes like “Wheel Don’t Roll,” which would feel quite at home on Europe ’72. The swampy blues shuffle “Someday Past The Sunset” benefits greatly from his spooky slide guitar. Funky clavinet propels the gospel-style thematic opener, “Let’s Go Let’s Go.” And they settle comfortably into a keyboard-driven, soul/jazz groove on “Little Lizzie Mae.”

As on Big Moon Ritual, The Magic Door clocks in at only seven tracks. That’s 14 tracks in just under a year, which accounts for just one release for some bands. But not only is this pacing more digestible – a handful of new songs every few months – each record is a feast unto itself. The Magic Door includes several courses that could be considered entrees.

Principally speaking, the nearly 14-minute opus “Vibration & Light Suite” starts off with disco-era dance revelry, then morphs with a flourish of prog-metal thump into a head-banging wallop. Then, it delves and dissolves into a Floydian, mesmerizing exploration that splashes down amid sound effects of birds lapping the tides, snippets of unintelligible conversations, tribal drumbeats, and … is that the call of a humpback whale? The bubbling, hypnotic conclusion that fizzles into an insects’ buzz leaves no doubt that this is intended to be cosmic music.

One of the seven tracks here is a re-take of the Crowes’ “Appaloosa,” which was included on their 2009 double disc collection Before The Frost…Until The Freeze. The rendition here serves as a comparison to not only the Crowes’ version of the song – the Brotherhood’s features a gorgeous, languid solo from Casal and a curious synth riff on the chorus – but to that album.

The Brotherhood’s approach, like their music, is to take their time in releasing the songs, a few here, a few there. If you want to consider The Magic Door a companion piece to Big Moon Ritual, go right ahead. It’d make for a damn fine album. But the door itself will lead you to a magical place all its own.

The Magic Door is out now on Silver Arrow Records.