Much like the young lion who ingratiates himself with the jazz cognoscenti, Chris Robinson, with his New Earth Mud comrades, is making a place for himself on the jam band scene by appearing at festivals such as Bonnaroo and opening shows for the Allman Brothers. If this Southern expatriate's first solo album wasn't enough to convince that there's no need for a Black Crowes reunion, This Magnificent Distance
should do the trick. With an admirable variety of material and arrangement, this new CD contains music that is, in turn, raw, statuesque and exotic.
In the early days of the Crowes, Robinson's voice was often likened to that of Rod Stewart and the initial cut here, "40 Days," sounds like nothing so much as Rod the Mod covering Bob Dylan in his early solo days when Stewart was more likely to cover obscurities by the master rather than an album of MOR standards. Robinson even demonstrates some of Dylan's idiosyncratic vocal phrasing on "Surgical Glove." Chris Robinson is no slouch as a lyricist either: Distance is peppered with evocative images on songs such as "When the Cold Wind Blows at the Dark Edge of Night" and "If You See California" (in which understatement redeems the bombast of the preceding cut, where more production presence would make its orchestration resonate). You can even interpret "Train Robbers" as a metaphor for the (temporary?) split of the Black Crowes.
In tune with this more reflective writing, Robinson prefers subtle shadings and diverse textures in the instrumentation he chooses. During "Girl on the Mountain," bass, liquid electric leads and acoustic guitar float around each other, while "Mother of Stone" features some exotic percussion leading into the soulful shout of the leader. Such delicacy is in contrast to the broad strokes and powerhouse approach of his former band, but on both the raucous "Sea of Love" as well as the conclusion of "Peace of Wind," where a blues progression buoys a wailing harp, Chris proves he can still do what he's done before, as well as ever, in addition to what's new on this disc.
Recorded in something of a transitional phasethe current New Earth Mud lineup includes guitarist Audley Freed (who appears on the CD) and keyboardist/vocalist Rob Barraco (who joined for this summer's tour)Robinson & Co. might entertain the audacious ploy of recording a live album of all new original material. There's a live sampler in circulation where the NEM instrumental interludes are just as arresting as when their leader is singing (and he makes some bold choices ranging from Bob Marley's "Waiting in Vain" to Bob Dylan's "Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You," while the band works out on Pink Floyd's "Interstellar Overdrive"[?!]). Chris sounds so thoroughly inspired on This Magnificent Distance , he and his band would no doubt turn the potential pitfalls of such a project into advantages that would only further reflect positively on him and his post-Crowes future.
Personnel: Chris Robinson: vocals, guitar, harp; George Lake: keyboards; Geroge Reiff: bass;Paul Stacey: guitar; Jeremy Stacey: drums; Ethan Johns:drums; Audley Freed: guitar; Richard Causon: keyboards