Chris Robinson Brotherhood, ‘Big Moon Ritual’ – Album Review
The onetime frontman of the Black Crowes has come back to lead a new tribe in 'Big Moon Ritual,' a down-home take on cosmic consciousness, the mellow stuff of rainbow gatherings and classic rock festivals. Long story short: The Chris Robinson Brotherhood is groovy, man, real groovy.
The sprawling 11-minute opener 'Tulsa Yesterday' is abundantly meandering, vaguely mythical and overtly sexual, sending out vibes of footprints left in red clay, Southwestern love,and exploratory guitar solos -- a calm reprieve from the high-tweet cacophony of 2012. Single 'Rosalee' is tighter -- only seven minutes rather than eleven -- and that concision is good for the track. Robinson is in love again, and he might not leave her: "I understand that this bird in my hand is worth two in the bush." Oblivious sexism aside, the two-decade vet is in fine vocal form, his vibrato shaking each vowel. His lyricism tends toward folksy philosophizing: "It's all downhill from here / Down to the beach." He swaggers with a cruise control set to cool, calling out, "Is the air getting thinner? Are we getting high?" After his many accomplishments, Robinson has earned a right to indulge -- as evidenced by his spaced out lyrics, the long form virtuosity of the players around him, and song lengths on the far end of long form.
The man has a gift for intertwining the stellar and domestic. In 'Star a Stone,' Robinson reminiscences about being "thirteen at the table when the wine was passed around." He evokes varied scenes of a menaced and magical childhood: musicians in the hallway, strange figures in doorways, drunkards laughing and the sound of glass breaking in another room. Some "ooh-oo-oohs" are added to the mix with 'Reflections on a Broken Mirror," which shows the Brotherhood at their most soulful and honest ("The vagabond child has come back home / Dropped through the sky with clouds the color of stone").
Robinson, the prodigal adventurer, has grown into middle age, into fatherhood. While he may have lost the edge of his former rock 'n' roll lifestyle, he hasn't lost his grace in chronicling life. Album closer 'One Hundred Days of Rain' is a meteorological missive to the trials and triumphs of career musicianhood -- “You can’t join the band unless you sing the songs and let bygones be bygones.” When you get this far, you learn to let go.
By the end of the hour listen, 'Big Moon Ritual' proves itself to be exactly as advertised: a classic long form jam session. Longtime fans of the Crowes will be smitten from the start, and any Dead or Phish head will have loads to groove with. What sets this crew of maestros apart from their jam peers is, unsurprisingly, the bandleader that lends his name. Chris Robinson remains one of the most individual voices in the game, and now that the dude's settled down, here's hoping he'll stay a while.