These days the way-back machine driven by the Chris Robinson Brotherhood is a hybrid model. Not only is the group working with its new drummer, Tony Leone, and a sub on bass in Ted Pecchio, but has dialed in San Francisco circa-1976 for some signposts on a record that leaks into the City’s pre-disco Haight-days as it looks ahead through its psychedelic spyglass. The Brotherhood has embraced its trippy-hippie intent from the start in ways of fashion and form, and the bell-bottom wide grooves don’t take long to arrive here, hitting stride on opener “Narcissus Soaking Wet.” Yet, its Robinson’s vocal, spitting soulful and street-wise on that and the follower, “Forever as the Moon,” that embraces his inner Dylan-as-urban shaman, and gives the singer a chance to blow country harmonica for the first time on a CRB outing.
Pairing those elements with guitarist Neal Casal’s increasingly perceptive guitar playing and keyboardist Adam MacDougall’s encyclopedic use of textures and sounds, (with hints of last year’s Circles Around the Sun ), this Bay Area session achieves a cohesive height of coloration and group-think unexpected from a band in transition. So, when the echoes of the midpoint cut, “Give Us back Our Eleven Days,” swirl around a sound collage and second-line beat before disappearing into the album’s second side and the gentle “Some Gardens Green,” it furthers the narrative of change. It doesn’t mean the Brotherhood can’t peel back some dance floor, as it does on the rock and roll of “Leave My Guitar Alone,” that prioritizes the six-string over the weed stash. Or pay homage, as MacDougall’s wandering whirls lead the laconic “Oak Apple Day” in a grateful, loping nod to that other San Fran band, Casal soloing tightly over the cut-time. The album finishes with “California Hymn,” true to its title, tossing in the southern gospel of Robinson’s Atlanta with Bakersfield pedal steel; just another stop in the way-back hybrid on this road trip from yesterday to tomorrow.