Chris Robinson Brotherhood: Barefoot in the Head

Richard B. Simon on September 22, 2017

Barefoot in the Head, Chris Robinson Brotherhood’s first album recorded with bassist Jeff Hill, marks a further evolution in the CRB’s soundscape. At its core, this is an acoustic record. Adam MacDougall’s weirdo synth tones play counterpoint to his piano and to Barry Sless’ pedal steel. It feels like a series of tone poems as the guitars never stick with one sound for long; instead, all the instruments trickle through, shifting tones, with the guitar or synth laying out very simple melodic hooks. The guitars strum acoustic, then Neal Casal throws down a quick electric guitar riff in a rock breakdown. There’s a progression across the album toward acoustic instruments, and toward bigger, deeper open spaces that create the psychedelic architecture. You can taste the ocean off Stinson Beach and feel the heat coming off the hills as winter subsides. Robinson’s nature-based cosmic metaphors serve as a cycle of love songs, rather than as wizened meditations on how one must proceed in life or reflections on playing in a rock-and-roll band. Where “Behold the Seer” and “Hark, The Herald Hermit Speaks” feel a bit unsettlingly up-tempo, “Dog Eat Sun” is slow and ruminating, building in intensity as the acoustic guitars pick together through the verses: “Ah, universal one/ bright light, new sun/ the change has now begun/ no love forever.” “Blue Star Woman” opens with jazz piano and drums, then becomes a low-slung summer porch groove, rattling bones while the guitars lean way far back in the reverb. It melts down into the psychedelic, but not for long. These are tightly structured songs, arranged by the shifting tones that rain through them like neutrinos. “High Is Not the Top” is Marin County bluegrass, while “Glow” features Hill playing huge upright bass notes below some classic Robinson country folk, with mandolin on top and Alam Khan’s sarod in the right channel. Robinson’s vocals have an enormous amount of open space to cut across; you can hear every nuance in his breath. A flute joins in, and everyone sings together: “I feel you glow.” It’s a gorgeous song. Only in Marin could you make a song like this. Only in Marin could you make a record like this.

Artist: Chris Robinson Brotherhood
Album: Barefoot in the Head
Label: Silver Arrow