"That was the second show of the tour," explains Chris Robinson about the first time he played in the Hudson Valley when the Black Crowes opened Aerosmith's PUMP tour at the Orange County Speedway in Middletown during the summer of 1990. "We were in Pennsylvania the first night and that was day two. Aerosmith were huge champions of the Black Crowes early in our career."
Chris is calling from Los Angeles, where he and his present band, the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, are rehearsing for their winter 2015 tour. It also happens to be the very day his brother and longtime creative partner Rich Robinson made a vitriolic public statement announcing the official dissolution of the Crowes on the cusp of the 25th anniversary of their classic debut Shake Your Moneymaker. But if this news reached the singer's ears at the time of our phone conversation, it didn't stop him from reminiscing about his now-defunct group's robust history in our area with any less sense of fondness.
"The Hudson Valley has always been a special area for creative people and music," he muses. "The best times for me were being able to make two incredible records up there. The summer the Black Crowes spent in Shokan at Allaire Studios to make [2008's] Warpaint was really magical. And then, of course, being at the Barn and the Levon Helm sessions that we did for our last album Before the Frost...Until the Freeze will go down in the pantheon of the coolest shit I ever got to do."
On February 10, Robinson returns to the region to play Woodstock's Bearsville Theater for the first time since 2012, in support of the Brotherhood's excellent new studio album Phosphorescent Harvest. Graced with a striking psychedelic portrait of the Hudson River on its cover by Larry Carlson, this third CRB LP is by far the band's boldest statement yet, produced by acclaimed indie producer Thom Monahan (Silver Jews, Scud Mountain Boys, Beachwood Sparks, Vetiver) and encompassing a myriad of contrasting styles that really displays the growth of his new outfit—rounded out by multi-instrumentalist and American treasure Neal Casal, one-time Black Crowes keyboardist Adam MacDougall, bassist Mark "Muddy" Dutton, and brand-new drummer Tony Leone, who joined the group in January—as a singular creative force entirely unto its own.
"People can say we sound like this or we sound like that," he explains. "I don't give a fuck. What we're talking about at the end of the day in regard to what we do, and I don't want to oversimplify, but fucking rock and roll. We play Fats Domino and the Everly Brothers and Slim Harpo and Hank Ballard and Billy Mitchell, and that's just as classic to us as Pink Floyd or Tangerine Dream or Gong or The Gun Club. It all goes around in this electrical current, but it's something harder to market as 'cool'—that realism."
Yet regardless of how wildly diverse the ingredients comprising Phosphorescent Harvest may be, the Brotherhood smoothly blends it all together into a heady bisque of pure warmth, groove, and soul in a way not unlike the recipe for his old band's sophomore masterpiece The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, a comparison Robinson attributes to the internalization of the listener's own private history with the music they love.
"Those connections are soulful ones," he muses. "Some people just listen to music because it's fashionable, and they change music like they change clothes. But when music's your thing and there's this gravitational pull, I can relate because I listen to records for all the same reasons. When I'm feeling depressed or something's not going right, there's a certain sound or a lyric or a voice that makes me feel like a part of humanity again and helps me realize this storm shall pass. And when I'm having the best time with family and friends, there's music for those moments as well."
Chris Robinson Brotherhood plays the Bearsville Theater on February 10 at 9pm. Tickets: $30/$49/$59. (845) 679-4406; Bearsvilletheater.com