With no compact disc version available, the Chris Robinson Brotherhood’s Betty’s S.F. Blends, Volume One 4-LP deluxe vinyl set (limited to 2,000 copies) gave me a visceral thrill as I opened its packaging. Occasionally, as I grow older and learn to appreciate the music of the ’60s and ’70s I would wonder what it must have felt like to hold a just-released vinyl album in your hands and know—just KNOW—that it was going to give your ears a ride. It’s an experience, I thought, that a CD could never truly compete with.
I was right.
Betty’s S.F. Blends is four albums stretched out over eight sides and nearly 2.5 hours of stripped-down cosmic rock and roll that bears witness to the fact that vinyl was truly the way to have experienced music back then—and still is today, at least when it contains music such as what’s on these discs.
The 4-LP set consists of 19 songs that were culled from the band’s epic five-night run in San Francisco in late 2012 by Betty Cantor-Jackson, the primary sound engineer and producer for the Grateful Dead from the ’60s through the ’80s, and who recorded, engineered, produced, and mixed this release. For a band that blends the soulful blues of Robinson’s day job band, The Black Crowes, with a sense of wondrous spaced out jam-rock that owes quite a lot to the Grateful Dead, I’m not sure that there could have been anyone else more perfectly suited to help bring this release into being.
With five nights of performances to choose from—a total of 96 songs in total—the care taken to make sure that not only the “best” performances made their way onto the albums but also make certain that the songs kept up with the necessary time lengths and tempos is supremely evident. As you roll through each side of each album, there is a sense of listening to one long wonderful performance night that leaves you with a slight sense of yearning and wanting just that little bit more.
Or, in simpler terms, the music on this is damn good.
Before you ever get to the music though, you have the pleasure—and I do mean pleasure—of opening up the release itself which starts with the sublime cover art designed by Alan Forbes, which sets up the palette and style that flows in every nook and cranny of this box set. Every square inch is decked out in a simple and still lush scheme of red, black and gold that seductively hints at the languid beauty of the music within.
It’s just, WOW.
Having both of the Brotherhood’s studio albums and having listened to them obsessively since their release, I can tell you without a doubt that this release finds the band—and Chris Robinson himself—sounding better than ever. It’s as though this was a band and performance destined to be preserved in such a medium that it could never have been properly experienced and enjoyed on a CD.
It’s “good time” music and that can’t be rushed; you have to take the time to turn the record over and savor each note and chord, I suppose. I know I do with each time I play these records.
If you are fortunate enough to be able to purchase this—I think there were still copies available on the band’s website or on Amazon.com, you will not regret it one bit. Seriously. It’s wonderful.
P.S. If you are an obsessive purist and want to hear EVERY song recorded during the five-night set that this was taken from (like me!), each night is available exclusively on Amazon as a full mp3 album. Though the experience is not quite so deep as the vinyl set, each night is a strong performance in its own right and is truly enjoyable if you have a few hours to pass the time and just enjoy some high quality music.