Chris Robinson liked 1973 so much, he decided to stay there. If that sounds like a negative criticism, it really isn’t. Way back then, it wasn’t unusual for bands to plough their own furrow – if they wanted to release three albums in two years, then so be it. If you wanted to make music that bore no relation to what was happening all around you, then you could. The only proviso was – is the music any good? If it was, then the record company paid the bill and after a week in bed, you hit the road to tour it. And Mr Robinson’s work ethic extends to live performances, too – he’s on the road in the US from early August until mid-December.
“Barefoot in the Head” is an easy album to listen to. The grooves are light and supple and Robinson weaves clever and melodic vocal lines around the “tight but loose” musicians. Gone is the pointless and aimless jamming which dogged Robinson’s previous band – The Black Crowes’ output. Tunes may stretch out a little, but there’s a purpose to every song on this album. “Blue Star Woman” does have a little avant garde section towards the end, but it’s not lengthy or obtrusive enough to spoil a perfectly good tune. It’s also followed by ”High is Not the Top” – a country flavoured harmonica ‘n’ banjo laden, downhome romp. Very tasty.
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There’s a lovely lightness of touch throughout the album. No epic songs. No lengthy guitar solos. No wailing and gnashing of teeth. Just simple songs played with taste and subtlety. At times it sounds a little like a slightly rockier Little Feat and that’s not a bad thing. “If You Had a Heart to Break” could be a truckers anthem for the new millennium, with Robinson channelling Lowell George at his most tender and you won’t hear a better line than “Well the last time I saw you, you called me handsome, now I know you just couldn’t remember my name”, on any album this year. “Glow” is a lovely, Mexican flavoured piece – an acoustic, waltztime gem with a charming mellotron line drifting in at the end of the song.
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One can imagine the circumstances that “Barefoot in the Head” was recorded in. No one in the expansively bearded band had one eye on the clock and the other on the studio door, waiting for the record company man to come charging in demanding to hear a single. The atmosphere was probably laid back and a little hazy to say the least. In spite of that, there is a high degree of focus evident. Jon Anderson of Yes was once referred to as “the hippy with the iron hand” – it seems that Mr Robinson has taken that simple phrase and used it as the credo which defines “Barefoot in the Head”. The album may have been great fun to record, but it wasn’t all smoking in the sunshine and listening to endless Grateful Dead bootlegs – these songs have been crafted just enough to give them purpose and there are very few traces of fat anywhere on the record.
No one in the Chris Robinson Brotherhood feels any pressure to make an album that reflects the chaotic world of 2017. I doubt if anyone in the Chris Robinson Brotherhood has a watch. “Barefoot in the Head” is a window into a gentle, bucolic world where double denim is acceptable, you can eat dinner barefoot and mobile phones are banned. You might not want to live there, but it’s a joy to visit. Come on in and sit a spell.
“Barefoot in the Head” is available now via Megaforce
The track listing is as follows:
Behold The Seer
She Shares My Blanket
Hark The Herald Hermit Speaks
Blonde Light of Day
Dog Eat Sun
Blue Star Woman
High Is Not The Top
If You Had A Heart To Break
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