Chris Robinson Brotherhood
The Magic Door
Silver Arrow/Megaforce Records
4 out of 5 stars
Like the Aldous Huxley book The Doors of Perception that this album title gives a nod to, I was hoping that The Magic Door was going to open realms that I’d never even imagined. But the fact of the matter is that The Magic Door is, for the most part, something that the members of the “Hallucination Nation” (a monker for Robinson fans) have all seen before.
It’s not really too surprising, though, as The Magic Door has been billed all along as the “companion” album to Big Moon Ritual, which was released in June. Both albums were recorded over two monstrous sessions earlier this year at Sunset Sound in Los Angeles with producer Thom Monahan. So the songs have been kicking around for a while, and they’ve all been played frequently on the road. But all of that ‘poor-whoa-is-me’ lamenting about no new material aside, the album is in fact a superb companion to Big Moon Ritual.
Many times this summer I have referred to Big Moon Ritual as “the closest thing to new Grateful Dead music since Jerry died.” The Brotherhood’s guitarist Neal Casal plays Garcia style licks all over these songs, and Robinson has a decidely Robert Hunter vibe to his lyrics. But it wasn’t until I heard The Magic Door in its entirety that I discovered how much it serves as a ‘set two,’ to Big Moon’s set one.
The Magic Door opens with the peppy Hank Ballard cover “Let’s Go Let’s Go Let’s Go.” To parallel it in Dead terms, consider it along the lines of a “Bertha” or “Scarlet” to open the second set. From there the CRB go into “Someday Past the Sunset” and “Appaloosa,” with the flavor, feel and tempo of “Fire on the Mountain” and “Sugaree.”
But the definitive track of this analogy is the “Vibration & Light Suite,” which is a heady, heavy exploration, that despite having vocals and an actual melody, is still very similar to the Dead’s “space.” It’s not that trippy, but its nearly 14-minute length certainly traverses some time and space, especially once the song hits the 10:30 mark.
The “set” finishes with the bluesy “Little Lizzie Mae” (see: “Not Fade Away” and/or “Truckin’”), the melancholy “Sorrows of a Blue Eyed Liar” (see: “Stella Blue” and/or “Days Between” ), and finally finishes with “Wheels Don’t Roll,” which would give you a sweet second set closer of “The Wheel!”
It’s probably not a coincidence that The Magic Door can so easily be compared to a Grateful Dead set. The band is in the forefront of a New Cosmic California sound with tendrils reaching to the original Fillmore West, Topanga Canyon and outwards towards far horizons. Casal and Robinson are both devout Dead Heads, and if anyone deserves to carry the Garcia/Hunter torch it is most certainly these men. — BFJ
:: Chris Robinson Brotherhood ::
:: Mishawaka Amphitheatre :: September 13 ::
:: The Black Sheep :: September 14 ::
:: Fox Theatre :: September 15 ::
:: Telluride Blues & Brews :: September 16 ::