“When it comes to making records, the looser it gets, the better,” Chris Robinson said, announcing his Band of Brotherhood’s latest release. If you couldn’t tell by the glazed expressions on the faces of the Brotherhood on the front cover, the shroomy artwork and the inscription inside the accompanying booklet that reads “in case of loss, please return to the universe” oughta give you a clue as to the looseness to be found on the disc.
Robinson and his crew waste no time getting out there. “Narcissus Soaking Wet” sops up nearly every genre known to man and wrings ’em back out on a cut that replicates what happens when you stand between stages running simultaneously at a big festival. It’s great leakage, a bit disorienting, but a hell of a lot of fun to listen to and try to sort out. One minute it’s deep dish funk then it stutters into horny jazz before drifting into a few snatches of Philly soul before stumbling off into the blues and fading away with some psychedelic fonk.
“Leave My Guitar Alone” has been rattling around in Robinson’s head for fifteen years. Presented to the band for collaboration on this outing, it sounds like something Oliver’s Wood’s (Woods Brothers) former band King Johnson would have done, borrowing a few tasty riffs from Keith Richards, grooving along with bluesy, old time rock and roll gusto.
Throughout the record, you get a feeling that the music is part of a soundtrack buried deep in your subconscious, and it finally shakes loose on “California Hymn.” The record sounds like it was captured live at one of Levon Helm’s famous Rambles, that big ole family style band putting out a sound that envelops you like a circle of friends’ arms. That’s due in no small part to the new rhythm section, drummer Tony Leone, whose credits include time with the Helms, with Amy in Ollabelle, and in Levon’s band as well. Bassist Jeff Hill is also acquainted with those Rambles from his time with Helm’s bandleader Larry Campbell. And of course Robinson is no stranger there himself, captured live bellowing like a blue demon on “Shake Your Money Maker” from ’08’s The Levon Helm Band: The Midnight Ramble Sessions Volume 3. “California Hymn” has all those Helmy, Band-like elements that were the fabric of the Rambles. Levon would have been proud to sit behind the kit or kick out the jams on mandolin down in front on this one.
It may be loose in spirit, but the musicianship is tight, a band of brothers who speak as one.