"Kiss the dice and let them roll"
When The Black Crowes went on hiatus a few years ago, it’s probably fair to say that few of their fans held any great hopes out for either of the Robinson brothers releasing anything but sporadic niche-appeal vanity projects until the band regrouped. The fact that Anyway You Love, We Know How You Feel is The Chris Robinson Brotherhood’s fourth studio album in four years should indicate that he has confounded expectations. It’s not just about Robinson either, as the rest of the band more than pull their weight throughout this album, and in Neal Casal, Robinson has found a guitar player who is happy to pull in the same direction as him, rather than someone he has to find a compromise with. A rootsy jam-based quartet, CRB have been happily making psychedelia flecked Southern rock albums since forming, retaining Robinson’s obsession with all things retro and rubbing shoulders with former members of The Grateful Dead and other jam band legends.
If Anyway You Love, We Know How You Feel is the first CRB album you’ve heard, the first thing that will strike you is that even in the studio, they are a much more loose sounding proposition than The Black Crowes, who themselves could wander into formless noodling if they didn’t retain their focus. Much less of a boogie-led proposition, CRB tread that fine line between studio jamming and avoiding getting lost down a rabbit hole. What has been retained is Robinson’s potent voice. For all of his embracing of the rock and roll lifestyle, Robinson’s voice remains in scintillating form, a rasping blues holler which has lost none of its impact since it was first heard by the wider world over a quarter of a century ago. In fact, I’d probably go as far to say that this is probably the finest vocal performance I’ve heard from Robinson since 1999’s By Your Side, maybe even as far back as 1992’s Southern Harmony and Musical Companion.
“Narcissus Soaking Wet” is an interesting way to open Anyway You Love, We Know How You Feel. A soulful rocker, with more than a hint of early Steely Dan about it, it still manages to lollop along in a loose limbed manner. Although the jazzy guitar flourishes are pretty much restricted to the opening track, the sense of space and freedom is maintained throughout the album and you get the sense that this is the musical direction that Robinson wanted to push The Black Crowes for some time, but was unable to do so due to various dynamics within the band. Whatever the case, Robinson sounds very much relaxed and at ease with himself and his band, so he allows himself a few more flights of fancy and evidently has great faith in his band mates. The keyboard work by Adam MacDougall throughout the album stands out, particularly as its much more of a ‘synth’ sound than the swirling organ work of The Black Crowes. In fact, the whole album is a little less guitar based than you might expect, instead there’s much more of a unified band sound, with no particular focus on showing of the musical chops of any one band member.
Taken as a whole Anyway You Love, We Know How You Feel is a loose and groovesome listening experience, and those looking for a polished and focused rock record may leave disappointed. Taken out of the context of the album, the individual songs seem to unravel slightly, however the whole album is much more than the sum of its parts, with the whole band along for the ride and Robinson sounding better than he has in years. This is the sound of CRB underlining their status as one of the great modern jam bands, happily tipping their collective hat to their own musical heroes, paying no heed to the vagaries of musical fashion and reminding us that extra curricular albums by members of established groups need not be vanity projects.