Chris Robinson / Chris Robinson & The New Earth Mud

This Magnificent Distance

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For those attracted -- as well as put off -- by the sun-drenched and shambolic hippie optimism on New Earth Mud, forget it. While This Magnificent Distance is not a pessimistic record, it is a darker one (texturally at least), and its musical polestar is a step into something murkier, more spacious and varied, and better articulated, yet less defined. This is most certainly a rock record. (What else could it be?) But as a songwriter, Robinson has grown by leaps and bounds (though he claims some of these tunes were written before New Earth Mud). His collaboration with producer and multi-instrumentalist Paul Stacey has borne wonderful fruit here -- as has the addition of veteran bass ace George Reiff. The opener, "40 Days," with a balls-out guitar riff and swirling organ line, is one of the most lyrically sophisticated tracks on the set. Walking a razor between the delirious metaphors of Bob Dylan and the punchy tight lines of John Lennon, it is an exhortation to the needy side of dangerous love and flight. But the sheer sonic wallop it packs makes it the obvious first single, and Black Crowes fans will flip for this one. But it is countered immediately with the dreamy psychedelia of "Girl on the Mountain," with its layered bluesy guitars and shimmering drums. The chorus rocks, but the rest of it rolls. Top-heavy crackle returns on "Mother of Bone," which will undoubtedly turn into a jamming standard live. Blues and a slippery backbeat weave acoustic guitars into the verse as well as burning distorted lead riffs into the refrain. But it's the organic percussion that splays it all open into some kind of simmering sonic drift. The beautiful Western-themed cuts, such as "Train Robbers," "Like a Tumbleweed in Eden," and the gorgeous "When the Cold Wind Blows at the Dark Edge of Night," are genre-warping textural studies in psychedelic production and poetic song structures. The music is progressive, and wonderfully intricate; it stands completely outside the mark of anything Robinson has done before. The loose country stroll of "...If You See California" is the album's most beautiful love song, and is partnered with "Eagles on the Highway," steeped in American mythic iconography. The album comes back to tough, lean rock & roll on the set's final three selections, "Surgical Glove," "Sea of Love," and the closer, "Piece of Wind." They take the gentility and moodiness of the middle section of the record and break it all down to lean, mean basics once more with brilliant instrumental interplay between Stacey and Reiff. This Magnificent Distance is a worthy and wonderfully engaging testament to Robinson's creative evolution.

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