Give thanks and praises to Chris Robinson Brotherhood, as very few, if any bands have ever offered their followers so many postcards from the road this early in their career. Aside from the periodic live samplers the psychedelic San Francisco quintet has emailed to fans, the group is now on a third volume featuring the mixing board wizardry of noted Grateful Dead taper Betty Cantor-Jackson. This one, in 2-CD or six-sided LP formats, finds the Brotherhood on a Southern U.S. swing in the fall of 2015, adding to an already-impressive haul.
It was a transitional time in the group’s history. The quintet had a new drummer in Tony Leone and was a few months from saying farewell to founding bassist Mark ‘Muddy’ Dutton. Yet, the expanded set bares only the marks of a tight, but loose working band in the midst of a rocking run.
The first two sides focus on steadies from the songlist, including a snarling Black Crowes’ cover of “I Ain’t Hiding,” and two crib-shakers from Slim Harpo, (“Got Love,” “The Music’s Hot”) mixed around the early band original, “Clear Blue Sky & The Good Doctor.” The middle follows the pattern with a pair of companion CRB country heel-kickers- “Roan County Banjo” and “Oak Apple Day”- intersected by spirited covers “I’m a Hog for You” and “Get Out of My Life Woman.” The final two sides again shadow band compositions “Honeysuckle Interlude,” “Tales of Thunder Teeth,” and “Girl I Love You” with nods to Bob Dylan on a closing “She Belongs to Me,” and Robinson’s New Earth Mud tune “Ride.”
So much for the stats. What is really necessary to know and appreciate about this release is how well Cantor-Jackson has again found the Brotherhood’s inner energy, the signature of each song, and accentuated it. There is very little crowd noise bleeding in, adding to a clean, concentrated mix, and allowing the weaving interplay, especially between guitarist Neal Casal and keyboardist Adam MacDougall, to spin its cosmic spells. Robinson finds plenty of sweet spots as frontman and collaborator with equal skill, singing with crackling attitude, yet leaving the limelight to his bandmates when called for. As a rhythm section, Dutton and Leone sound like tour-tested partners; a testament to both of their high-level abilities given the timing of this new partnership.
The sum total of these blends, melding the ambitious drive of a new drummer with its comfortable core four, transmitted through the wires to the ears by Betty, and packaged as though a near-complete show in both length and repertoire make Volume 3 the next essential release to add to the Chris Robinson Brotherhood collection.