As much as I love Chris Robinson’s voice, I was never the biggest Black Crowes fan. Don’t get me wrong, much of their music is snugly fit into a playlist on my preferred cloud-based music provider, but more and more I listen to it less and less. The reverse is true for Robinson’s solo work and his current band, The Chris Robinson Brotherhood. Without going into the irony of the band he’s in without his brother as a partner being called a “brotherhood,” I think it’s actually a fitting name for the band, as the musicians and tone of the music seem to fit Robinson’s voice much closer than that of The Black Crowes.
I think it has something to do with the revved-up blues boogie sound of the Crowes. Throughout their work – both studio and official live releases – it always seemed as if Rich Robinson was the one that most heavily fueled the guitar-driven boogie aspect of their music. His brother Chris would just sit in the pocket, whatever shape or speed it might enfold, and work his vocal mojo to the best of his ability.
When that pocket was one of the slower more drawn-out and dreamy songs, though, that’s where he’d shine the brightest. That’s why “Jealous” was their first hit, but “She Talks to Angels” might have been the best song off their stellar debut album, Shake Your Money Maker. I can listen to that album on repeat for days.
So, when Chris Robinson put out his first solo album I was extremely curious and excited, if you can guess. Now a bit harder to find than it should be, New Earth Mud was a solid attempt at distancing himself from The Black Crowes (even if it is a bit dated now as it’s basically a giant love letter to his then-wife, Kate Hudson). Perhaps the best thing I can say about that record is it allowed him to record a second solo album, which turned out to be just about perfect.
That album – This Magnificent Distance – is about as perfect a Chris Robinson album as I ever thought I would get to hear. Bluesy, soulful and filled with a crackle of creative energy missing from some of the latter Black Crowes releases, it truly was/is a great album, and if it had been the end of his career other than the occasional reunion tour with the Crowes, it would have been a powerfully high water mark to end a career on. It would also have been a hell of a shame.
This long, incoherent stream-of-consciousness is due in no small part to the sonic chills and thrills that ran through my spine the first time I listened to Any Way You Love, We Know How You Feel, Chris Robinson’s new album (his fourth with CRB), but I think it’s safe to say the waves kept on breaking against the shore and the water mark keeps resetting itself.
Any Way You Love… is a dream of an album. Continuing much of the spacey jam-rock of the band’s previous three albums, it also breaks rank from those other releases and manages to forge along in a new and seemingly less restrained path.
Big Moon Ritual and The Magic Door, the band’s two initial records, were pretty much recorded in one deeply creative recording stint that heralded the arrival of a sound that had much more to do with the spiritual lovechild of Pink Floyd and The Grateful Dead than any part of The Black Crowes. The third release, Phosphorescent Harvest, continued in that same vibe but seemed to expel way more energy than the laid-back grooves of the previous album.
Any Way You Love…, though, is neither a throwback to the slower tone of the first two albums or the bluesy raucousness of the third; instead, it is something other, as it neither lingers in its sound nor rushes to any conclusions. It just luxuriates in its own moment and in its own pace.
From the slow waves of sounds that heralds the funky handclap groove of the opening track “Narcissus Soaking Wet” to the ragged, yet right harmonies of “California Hymn” that sounds like a song that should have been born of a recording session between The Eagles and The Beach Boys, the whole album is just one big, joyful love letter to music itself.
Of course, a lot of what makes CRB sound as wonderful as it does – especially so on this album – is the incredible talent that is Neal Casal. Until I first saw his name on Big Moon Ritual, I’m ashamed to say I’d never heard of this guy, so his guitar tone and the harmonies he brings into the band were just eye-opening then and even more so now on this release.
It’s as if these two guys (Casal and Chris Robinson) have finally gotten enough of this music they’d each been dying to write, sing and perform out of their system so that they could just lay back in the groove and see what the muse would bring them this time around.
As I cannot think of another album I’ve enjoyed more in 2016, I think the muse delivered and I hope she continues to visit them for years and years to come. This one is worth the physical purchase, by the way. Sure, the digital release sounds fine but this album in particular is what a turntable was made for.