The distance in the title is charged with double meaning, a reminder of the space between us yet also a celebration of being apart, independent, away from it all. Both poles get explored in a dozen yearning, winged ways on Chris Robinson's sophomore solo album. There's a "politely stoned" quality to Distance to snag just one of the myriad quotable lines in these California sunset soaked spaces. On his website Chris states, "I want to find a common ground where thought, action, and soulfulness meet emotion and experience--that was kind of the motivating factor behind the whole album." He emerges from floods and flurries with a record that stacks up to Spirit's Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus (same sonic potency and riled-up chug) and Jackson Browne's Late For The Sky (same moral fiber and heavenward gaze). Without question, this is Robinson's best stuff since 1996's Three Snakes And One Charm with the Black Crowes, and being really honest it's his best overall set since Amorica. Recorded after a fair amount of road testing, This Magnificent Distance belongs to no one time, a complete personal vision delivered with a lilac crown and boots of Spanish leather.

"Girl On The Mountain" updates Chad & Jeremy's psychedelic pop, a candy colored love song with high skies. "40 Days" and "Piece Of Wind" find him belting it out like days of yore, reaffirming his place amongst the best pipes ever in rock, a flexible dynamo visiting ever new places in his post-Crowes era. Throughout Paul Stacey, part of the "Old Earth Mud" who performed on these recordings, sparkles, a brilliantly understated guitarist one has to go back to '70s David Lindley and Randy California to find an appropriate frame of reference for. Audley Freed will have his hands full on the summer tour trying to replicate the controlled beauty of Stacey's playing. Chris' poetry is strong here, pregnant sentences and words "sad with wisdom," never more so than on "Train Robbers," which waves goodbye to the Crowes and flatly announces Robinson's commitment to not be just "another household name to be discarded with time." He's eaten from fame's fruit tree and knows how bitter it is to "be the stuff of headlines." There are springy road anthems, country's lonesome railroad whistle, a quaint tribute to the Golden State, rusty strings, cosmic rippling, and folkish intimacy, all aspects of Robinson's musical mind laid bare as never before. Not once do commercial concerns or collaborative compromise sully things. This is the record he was born to make, and we're lucky to have it and the man behind it.

Dennis Cook
JamBase | Oakland
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[Published on: 6/30/04]

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