The Chris Robinson Brotherhood at The Rusty Nail

Doug Collette By

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The Chris Robinson Brotherhood
The Rusty Nail
Stowe, Vermont
August 5, 2016

In its third visit to Vermont in as many years, The Chris Robinson Brotherhood betrayed scant evidence of the transition apparent on their recently-released record Any Way You Love, We Know How You Feel (Silver Arrow, 2016). On the contrary, in two lengthy sets, the quintet demonstrated a growing self-assurance as they continue incorporating a new rhythm section and simultaneously reconfiguring the fundamental elements of their music.

In fact, it's fair to say this latest performance at The Rusty Nail in Stowe pivoted around drummer Tony Leone, who joined the band in 2015, and bassist Jeff Hill, who enlisted this year. More than merely the titular leader of the band, Chris Robinson played guitar throughout the show (as he rarely did with the now defunct band he founded, the Black Crowes), and used his handling of the instrument to set the tone and direction for the group before an overflowing, deeply engaged audience.

Nodding in approval and gesturing in suggestion to both bassist and drummer (and further around the stage), the lanky, graying frontman orchestrated segues, turns of improvisational direction and emphatic stops to songs like "Wheel Don't Roll" that nurtured the purposeful momentum of the ensemble. Within a sequence of largely original material, including the nascent staple "Marcissu Soaking Wet," the instrumental mainstays of the Brotherhood need no such encouragement; guitarist Neal Casal has honed a perfectly circular logic in his soloing, as on "Forever As The Moon," in which precision and economy, render him worthy of the designation guitar hero.

Keyboardist Adam MacDougall has as much or more room in the spotlight. The sounds he coaxes from his synthesizer, like those during Hoyt Axton's "Never Been to Spain," are a creative alternative to steel guitar, while his protracted time on clavinet this night added gravity to a music that's more than a little airy at times (and this evening, near- transcendent more than once). Likewise, when he played piano on "Shadow Cosmos," he injected an earthy quality into the music: in fact, while a reference here to The Band might otherwise sound glib, it's a fact the CRB has thoroughly processed their influences and shaped a sound of their own: "Vibration and Light Suite," for instance, is a soulful sojourn through (inner and outer) space.

And though there were times early in the evening, especially during "Leave My Guitar Alone," that prominent harmony singing, combined with a certain floating quality, evoked the Grateful Dead circa Wake of the Flood (Grateful Dead, 1973), the band really never sounded imitative, even when they covered Bob Dylan or Eric Clapton. Indeed, the author of "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" might well envy their re- conception of his song, while Slowhand would surely smile widely at the CRB placement of "After Midnight" as an encore some ninety minutes past the witching hour.

No less climactic in its own way than the markedly more upbeat version of "Hard to Handle" that closed the first set (how many attendees who recognized it as the Crowes' first hit knew Otis Redding co-wrote it and the Dead often covered it), the quietly celebratory air with which the ensemble imbued the song was an accurate reflection of its composer J.J. Cale, not to mention knowing salute to its most famous proponent (courtesy Casal's sharp solo). Most important, however, it was also wholly of a piece with the music the Chris Robinson Brotherhood had played in the previous two-hours plus this deliciously hot and humid summer evening.
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