With the torrent of releases that the Chris Robinson Brotherhood has issued in the past 24 months, including three studio albums and several live collections, it’s an achievement all its own that each new entry exposes another side to this prolific quintet. Barefoot in the Head may be the group’s most varied effort yet. Bringing together their cosmic Coastal California impressions with a Dylan-esque poetic bent, this self-produced record comes soaked in symbolism and song craft.
The sunshine-groovy opening “Behold the Seer” has as close to a hook as the ten tracks allow, with the remainder feeling more introspective and bound little by convention. It’s a quieter, less psych-rock adventure than much of the band’s previous work, but still feels like another journey down the rabbit hole. Robinson has always been keenly aware to showcase the stellar talent of his quartet of bandmates, leaving plenty of space and time for guitarist Neal Casal and keyboardist Adam MacDougall. And while that remains true here, the restrained approach emphasizes less the extended jamming capability of the pair and more their abilities to color and shadow Robinson’s various vocal incarnations and lucid lyrical trips, perfected on “Hark, the Herald Hermit Speaks.”
There are flecks of placid country rock on “She Shares My Blanket,” and “Blonde Light of Morning,” the latter featuring some beautifully understated pedal steel from guest Barry Sless. “Dog Eat Sun” bares a slight resemblance in its first few bars to America’s “Ventura Highway”- perhaps coincidental, or a subtle nod to a previous generation’s ode to the Golden State- but moves into a more floating meander through words and thoughts. There is rollicking fun on “Blue Star Woman” and old-tyme ramble on “High is Not the Top.” Patient acoustic guitar and piano shapes “If You Had a Heart to Break,” leading to “Glow” and another terrific performance from a guest, as Alam Khan’s sarod graces the beatific, single-take standout. Finally, the album exits on “Good to Know,” a warbling, tipsy mid-tempo run that all but lights the lava lamp.