American blues rock band The Chris Robinson Brotherhood, led by ex-Black Crowes singer Chris Robinson, released their 5th album this year called Barefoot in the Head (Silver Arrow Records). It is a cleanly produced collection of original numbers that stick to what they do best, southern rock, psychedelic nuance, and funk grooves that bring back the 60s-70s, but with better diction. It’s clear from the ‘get go’ that these lads, Neal Casal (guitar/vocals), Adam MacDougall (keyboards), Tony Leone (drums) and Robinson on his ‘Peace Pipe’, a Vox Virage DC, with three P-90 pickups, are having a blast.
The opening track Behold the Seer, sets the pace with a funk vibe on clavinet that meows behind some dextrous riffs by Robinson, then rolls into southern rock territory without leaving that funk trail. The song is about having the grit to go on when things are looking glum, “There’s still lessons in these blues, We’re still free to choose, So put on your dancing shoes & come on we’ve got nothing to lose. It’s only space and time”. The background vocals on this track step in as a wind section, over some trippy hippy harp work and a piano finale. She Shares My Blanket is a California, (where the skies are so blue), love ballad, dipped in psychedelic and sprinkled with starry piano riffs, and a truly country feel throughout.
In an obvious salute to Bob Dylan, Hark the Herald Hermit Speaks, is a solid folk/rock number that, according to Casal is “..a great set of lyrics with a strong melody, Chris sings it with the conviction and confidence that only the best singers can deliver. The ensemble playing is arguably the strongest we’ve recorded in our 6-year history”. Casal lays the groundwork with his Gretsch White Falcon, then layers over it with a ‘52 Gibson SJ acoustic, a Gretsch electric 12-string, and finally a Fender Telecaster with a B-Bender on the fuzz solos. The wistful steel guitar and soothing vocals on Blond Light of Morning and If You Had a Heart to Break, are two folk-rooted heartbreakers. The latter contains what is a wink to the Beatles at one point; an odd inclusion from an otherwise country approach. But remember that these blokes are having some fun, so what the heck. The mesmerising Glow is a country ballad laced with the sarod of Alam Khan (son of Ali Akbar Khan, a world renowned Hindustani classical musician of the sarod), which, although at odds from a cultural standpoint, meet in the middle, and sounds like at least they were sharing the same pipe.
The idea of being ‘barefoot in the head’ is an apt title for this body of work. Barefoot is as simple as it gets in this complicated world; like the fresh-cut grass of our youth, this album is sweet smelling from top to bottom. The songs are easily played, sung and felt. A melodic push from what was to what is...the 60s rebooted par excellence!