If it’s possible for a band to sound vintage after only a few years in existence, Chris Robinson Brotherhood has done it on their limited-to-2,000-copies release of Betty’s Blend’s, Volume Two: Best Of The West. Paired with the near-mythical Grateful Dead archivist Betty Cantor-Jackson recording and mixing live during a 2014 summer tour of the western United States, the band drew a lucky seven from a variety of shows for this special vinyl/CD/download set. Cantor-Jackson has engineered the psychedelic train before- her tapes of Dead shows the stuff of legend- and her instincts for capturing the gloriously dog-eared Brotherhood in a most representative state seems equally as adroit here as it did with their freak-flying forefathers.
Floating notes, dressed in warbling and slicing tones, idle by in the opening funk of the “Vibration and Light Suite,” crumbling into an acid-wash pool before the wonk of Adam MacDougall’s keyboard reassembles the pieces for a rock-and-roll remedy on “Rosalee,” until that, too, takes the scenic route to ask the rhetorical question, ‘Are we getting high?’ And of course they don’t miss a chance to catch a proverbial pass from Betty, with the inclusion of the Dead’s “They Love Each Other.” The first of a pair of covers in the collection, (the other an album closing, beautiful interpretation of Tom Rush’s “Driving Wheel,”) the CRB/Cantor-Jackson partnership achieves the kind of cosmic symbiosis likely the goal they each thought conceivable with this outing. Here, “They Love Each Other,” is a relatively faithful rendition, with guitarist Neal Casal not so much mimicking Garcia as displaying Jerry’s lasting influence. Unfolding with space and grace, “Tumbleweed in Eden” threads together lines of vocal harmony and instrumental exploration like trails in the desert before an injection of boot-stomping from “Shore Power,” with transgressions of overdriven guitar and jabs of electric piano. The album’s darkness falls on ”Burn Slow,” Robinson’s ache paced as slowly as the title suggests, with the band’s hazy disposition then revived on the finale; Rush’s loping “Wheel.”
Cantor-Jackson’s unaffected and discerning production plus the choices made by the Chris Robinson Brotherhood in sequencing the tracklist deliver an album that emerges more like set one of a show than a piecemeal cobbling of random takes from the road. It’s balanced both sonically and emotionally, and serves equally well as a keepsake from summer 2014 or as a primer for the uninitiated. Get it before it’s gone.