If you’ve never heard of Chris Robinson you’ve almost certainly come across his work. His distinctive voice will be instantly recognisable to anyone familiar with The Black Crowes; Robinson’s strong, soulful vocals have been integral to their success over the past two decades. In addition, his solo work has included New Earth Mud and most recently, Chris Robinson Brotherhood.
Talk of a new solo project started in 2010, with a tour the following year. By the start of 2012, Chris Robinson Brotherhood was ready to record their debut album, “Big Moon Ritual”. Taking a decidedly country but bluesy direction, “Big Moon Ritual” delivers a musical experience something akin to a 1970s country rock band, and is all the better for it. Eschewing the harder guitar sound of The Black Crowes, dialling down the gain and employing pedal steel and electric piano, Chris Robinson Brotherhood has produced a work of mellow delights, country harmonies and thoughtful, extended instrumental passages. There is a definite groove to every one of the songs, whether rocker or ballad. Instrumentation is natural and bereft of any studio trickery; instead the songs stand on the technique employed by the band. There’s also the added dimension of some trippy sound effects, as on the intro to “Tulsa Yesterday”; the slightly cosmic desert scene of the album artwork giving a clue to that aspect of the album. The song features a wonderful vocal melody and culminates in a long instrumental passage, harking back to a golden age when such workouts were very much part of the musical landscape.
Listening to “Rosalee” I was struck by just how much it made my feet tap; and then by the realisation that after a couple of beers it would be impossible to stay in your seat, the fuzzed-up electric piano, shuffling beat and vocal harmonies having something vaguely Doobie Brothers about them.
As the album continues the tone begins to change, as the tempo is lowered and – with the exception of “Tomorrow Blues” – the songs become ballads, or at the very least, a touch more soulful and introspective. Robinson takes each of these in his stride, his voice the perfect fit for whatever musical style is required of it. “Star Or Stone” sees him carry an achingly lovely melody, his plaintive voice atop lush vocal harmonies, while the synth sound is so wonderfully retro it’s like nothing I’ve heard in years.
“Big Moon Ritual” is full of genuinely emotive, moving music that makes immediate contact with your feelings. All seven songs, like a really good music, involve the audience in a shared experience that is more than simply listening. There are definite links to what Chris Robinson has done before, but it’s more “She Talks To Angels” than “Hard To Handle”. It’s also immediately accessible music; anyone coming to the album with no history or expectations can jump right in. It has melody, harmony, restrained yet rewarding musicianship, and above all, soul. “Big Moon Ritual” is a wonderful album.