Music

Robinson brings his Brotherhood to Paradise

Angela Izzo

Chris Robinson borrows a popular term from the food world to describe his new band: farm to table.

“In a world that’s full of Olive Gardens and Red Lobsters, there’s another cultural sort of thing where people wouldn’t eat a corporate kind of food – in a weird way, music’s kind of the same,” Robinson says, describing the approach of Chris Robinson Brotherhood. “It’s more of a statement about connoisseur-driven culture as well. . . . This is our music and the culture that we’ve started with this band and our concerts, and it isn’t for everyone. It’s not for the rock ’n’ roll tourist.”

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Still, fans of old-fashioned rock ’n’ roll, particularly the variety that came to flower in the late ’60s and the 1970s, won’t have to make any undo demands of their GPS to locate the artistic center of Robinson’s work.

From the trippy-drippy artwork on the band’s show posters to its vintage, freak-flag-flying sound, Chris Robinson Brotherhood embraces the aesthetics of its idols. But in the year 2015, even rock neoclassicism can seem radical.

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“We’re definitely working within a tradition, no question about it,” says guitarist Neal Casal, who has co-written most of the group’s recent material with Robinson. “But I personally am not trying to save anything or return to anything. I don’t think there’s anything to return to. There’s only: Where do we go from here? I think we are interested in cutting a new path with old tools.”


Robinson is best known as the outspoken frontman for the Black Crowes, the revivalist Southern rockers who scored their first hits about two years before Nirvana displaced the King of Pop from the top of the charts and made guitar-rock fashionable again. He spoke to the Globe on the phone from a location that’s become very familiar — the tour bus.

He started the band in 2011, in the midst of the Crowes’ prolonged denouement. Robinson relocated to the West Coast two decades ago, and he freely describes the CRB (as it’s known by band members and fans) as a California band. It played, by its leader’s count, 118 shows up and down that state in its first year, developing a repertoire and an identity. Only then did it go into the studio and release two albums in quick succession the next year.

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Given the much-publicized feuding with his brother (and Crowes cofounder) Rich, bystanders can make what they will of the new group’s name. But its leader is emphatic that he set out to build a band from the ground up, not offer a way station for fans of the old stuff. (Just last month, Robinson frère issued a statement announcing the definitive breakup of the Black Crowes.)

“You were never going to see ‘Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes’ on a CRB poster,” the group’s namesake says. “We weren’t going to fool anyone. What’s the point? This is not that band, this is not that presentation, that is not that time.”

He and his new(ish) bandmates — including drummer Tony Leone, bassist Mark Dutton, and Crowes veteran Adam MacDougall on keyboards, in addition to Casal — make much of the notion that the CRB is defiantly non-trendy.

The group’s sound can be vaguely familiar, but is buoyed by the fresh energies and good taste of its creators. CRB’s third studio album, “Phosphorescent Harvest,” came out last year. It’s tighter and brighter than its predescors, but its psychedelic sheen was clearly not crafted with today’s pop charts in mind.

CRB won’t have much of a support entourage in tow when it plays Paradise Rock Club on Friday and Saturday. But Robinson sounds refreshed by the experience of starting over from scratch with new musical partners, and proving himself anew on the road.

“It’s unique to have this experience at this time in our lives,” Robinson, 48, says, “especially for me after something like the Black Crowes for those decades. And to all of a sudden be: Wow, this is a real band. This isn’t a project. This is our life. And we’re here to see where it takes us.”

As for that old band, public remarks from Chris were scarce right after Rich’s announcement last month. But he sounds entirely upbeat about the Crowes and that time in his life.

“To have had that experience, there’s no regret. There’s no anger, at least not from me, I’m perfectly happy – but then again, I’m happily remarried with a new family,” he says in apparent reference to CRB, breaking into a warm laugh. “In my book, I look back at that as a unique, once in a lifetime, very special experience. I’m not going to let other people’s trips taint that.”

Jeremy D. Goodwin can be reached at jeremy@jeremydgoodwin.com.
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