Considering how ugly the eventual split of the Black Crowes was, ripping apart not just the band but also the fraternal bond between frontman Chris Robinson and guitarist Rich, it’s been gratifying to see how much joy the former is taking from this non-biological Brotherhood he’s built. They’re clearly in something of a fertile period – this is their third studio album in two years – something we can probably put down to the fact that they seem to be having an absolute whale of a time.
Predictability may not be the most rock’n’roll starting point in the world, but in the case of Barefoot In The Head, having a good inkling of what it’s all about before hitting ‘play’ is as comforting as the music held within. Rather than straying too far from the path, Robinson returns with his usual stew of blues, country, warm psychedelia and rock’n’roll. But within that template, they’ve left a trail of surprises to uncover, and the band have built themselves a playground and given themselves the time and space to thoroughly explore every corner.
Opener Behold The Seer sets the scene with a moment of extreme, strutting old-school funkiness, before they skip their way through sweet, simple, clear-eyed romance (the drifting, hazy sunshine of She Shares My Blanket), beautiful sleepy pedal steel (softwareuiphraseguid=“551b3d5e-d9c7-4fe9-aac2-b5068aba0c3c”>softwareuiphraseguid=“551b3d5e-d9c7-4fe9-aac2-b5068aba0c3c”>Blonde Light Of Morning) and cheerful self-help affirmations that pinpoint the album’s Californian birthplace with military-level accuracy (Good To Know).
They lay their debt to their heroes bare, too. It doesn’t always work, or at least it won’t always be to all tastes. Blue Star Woman is horribly hokey, a lopsided, loose-lipped amble through a hazy night spent tumbling in soggy bedclothes of questionable cleanliness with the mystery lady of the title. Sadly, it tips that little too far into becoming a parody of The Doors at their most old-time-music-hall daft. But on the other hand, Hark, The Herald Hermit Speaks pays playful tribute to Bob Dylan with its barked poetry and barbed lyricism, and is a delight.
They’re at their best, though, when things are kept simple and sincere, as on the heartfelt country of High Is Not The Top, with its instantly affecting, ungilded assertion: ‘If you don’t know heartache then you don’t know love.’
Barefoot In The Head is a little ray of light beaming through these dark days.