The Chris Robinson Brotherhood
The Magic Door
By Doug ColletteOctober 04, 2012
The Chris Robinson Brotherhood’s debut album, Big Moon Ritual, transcended its roots in such a way, it was as if they were daring the listener to spot the influence(s). But just as the densely detailed black and white artwork to The Magic Door contrasts the resplendent color graphics of its predecessor, so does this sextet,on their second album,quite fully embrace and acknowledge where their music comes from.
The modified shuffles of the opening cuts set the tone, like its predecessor, derived from sessions earlier this year. Covering Hank Ballard's "Let's Go Let's Go "Let's Go” confirms the group's heart, mind and soul are in the right place. While on their own "Someday Beyond the Sunset" they are equally sure and confident in motion and movement, right through the braggadocio of Robinson's singing. It's a microcosm of the means by which CRB process what they've learned, to create their own music and, in the meantime, the nifty quick stop starts in the arrangement suggest they could do an evening of others' material and make it their own.
In a gesture of deserved gratitude, the group gives credit to Thom Monahan as producer, but otherwise, in lieu of song titles or poetry, the vinyl replica package graphics are taken up with cryptic phrases. The coy tone of which is a far cry from the poignant longing declared so openly in "Appaloosa." On this carryover from the Black Crowes ’Before the Frost...Until the Freeze project, Neal Casal's delicate guitar work mirrors the fragility in Adam MacDougall’s electric piano, the combination of which effectively completes a tune that didn't sound quite finished in its earlier incarnation.
Not surprisingly, it's almost as if The Magic Door's story actually begins with that acoustic-flavored tune. It's followed by the expansive likes of the near-fourteen minute "Vibration & Light Suite." Airy floating segments alternate with churning intervals that prevent this extended cut from drifting aimlessly. Like the best moments of their debut, this tune indicates The Chris Robinson Brotherhood have ideas aplenty, rather than having to resort to overextending skimpy concepts.
The Magic Door evinces good sense in production and pacing, with the insertion of the earthy tart tune "Little Lizzie Mae" directly following the ethereal end of "Suite." Another cull from The Crowes finds CRB forging a balance between blues and country in a way that highlights the virtues of each genre, while simultaneously injecting a dollop of good humor into a mix of material that might otherwise sound too serious for its own good. As he did so skillfully in the last lineup of The Black Crowes, MacDougall is expert at setting a tone with his multiple keyboards, but "Sorrows of a Blue-eyed Liar" remains sumptuous of sound even as it unfolds via Robinson’s doleful singing.
Turning truisms on their heads, the rustic overtones and singsong quality of "Wheel Don't Roll" thus becomes a fitting conclusion to an album that would've worked well as an intro to this band. If perhaps not so grandly ambitious as its first step, precisely because The Chris Robinson Brotherhood’s chemistry informs their material as much as their musicianship.