The Chris Robinson Brotherhood / Chris Robinson

Phosphorescent Harvest

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Phosphorescent Harvest is the third full-length offering from the Chris Robinson Brotherhood. Their debut, Big Moon Ritual, was soaked in various tried-and-true retro-rock tropes that allowed them to "jam" in lengthy tunes -- none under seven minutes -- and worked in that context. The Magic Door followed three months later. It traded on a more orderly frame of vintage rock and blues, though it did play host to the 13-minute-plus Grateful Dead-esque post-psychedelia of "Vibration & Light Suite." Phosphorescent Harvest attempts more formal songwriting while simultaneously letting the freak flag fly in trying to evoke the spirit of vintage California rock. Printed near the bottom of the inner sleeve are the words: "Blessed Are The Trip Takers." That about sums it up. The set was produced, engineered, and mixed by Thom Monahan. His ability to capture warmth and immediacy -- even with some really disparate elements -- is admirable. Adam MacDougall's keyboards are far more intrinsic to this date. Go no further than opener and first single "Shore Power." It simultaneously combines cheesy '80s (à la Huey Lewis) synths and Canned Heat-style boogie. The faux-psychedelic "bridge" is so loaded with clichés, the whole thing feels like a sendup. "Meanwhile in the Gods…." commences with a riff that cops directly from the Dead's "Truckin'" and spirals off with noodly keys to distract from an otherwise serviceable melody. All this artifice actually works on "Badlands Here We Come," a country-rocker steeped in the drama and space of Ennio Morricone's scores for spaghetti westerns; it contains nice electric piano touches and stinging lead guitar from Casal. Though "Clear Blue Sky & the Good Doctor" commences with whompy keyboards, it charges ahead toward country-rock before gently transforming itself into a drifting, summery instrumental. The funky R&B-tinged Americana on "Tornado" is interesting, while the use of Jimmy Reed and the Faces on "Beggar's Moon" falls apart under its own swaggering weight. "Wanderer's Lament" and "Burn Slow" are very different attempts at rock balladry, yet both fall flat because of Robinson's utterly lazy, disinterested singing. Closer "Humboldt Windchimes" is a compelling instrumental. It evokes elements of the Dead's "Weather Report Suite" before becomming nasty, funky, jazz-rock in the bridge, and sending the whole thing off on a high note (no pun intended). For all its sonic "ambition," Phosphorescent Harvest is a mess. It's a collection of songs without a unifying center. These players, fine though they may be, are far more interested in "seeing what happens" rather than considering what it might take to actually pull off an album.

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