Discerning music fans have learned to be wary of the vanity bands and side projects of charismatic rock stars. So when Chris Robinson put the Black Crowes on hiatus and started playing Los Angeles gigs with something called the Chris Robinson Brotherhood three years ago, you couldn’t blame anybody for being less than enthralled.
Yet, since the quintet took to the road for what’s been a nearly nonstop tour of adventuresome shows — often two-set, three-hour affairs — the Brotherhood has earned an envelope-pushing reputation that quieted most any misgivings.
Robinson’s familiar, soulful vocals lead songs driven by the keyboard wizardry of Adam MacDougall and shape-shifting lead guitar of Neal Casal (formerly of Ryan Adams and the Cardinals). Within a year of the band’s formation, it put out two albums of neo-classic rock and long, Dead-style jams while searching for its sound by performing upward of 200 times a year.
On its new record, “Phosphorescent Harvest,” the band mixes disparate elements of R&B, blues, psychedelic, folk, country rock and funk into its tightest songs yet (none over eight minutes) and its most original. The band wrote and arranged its songs, unsurprisingly, on the road in 2012, then recorded the record early last year and spent months tinkering with and perfecting it.
“I think it made for a better, stronger record — a more densely put-together production,” Casal said from the Brotherhood tour bus on the way to Colorado. “The attention to detail in this case was of great benefit to us. … We wanted to push it musically and sonically and have it stand apart and not sound like a typical record.”
The album opens with MacDougall’s distorted, up-tempo keyboard on “Shore Power” and then progresses unpredictably. There’s the country rock of “Badlands Here We Come” and “Clear Blue Sky & the Good Doctor,” with the latter descending into a lengthy psychedelic space-rock fade-out. There are rock ballads like “About a Stranger” and there’s slowed-down funk on “Tornado.”
Its far-flung sounds, Casal said, is the result of the kind of on-stage experimentation the band brings to Mammoth Fest tonight.
“It’s real hours logged, not conceptual ones,” Casal said. “We dragged ourselves across the country many times over in the course of a few years, and we got a good record as a result.”
The Brotherhood puts on improvisation-heavy shows that blend its songs with covers and jams — a style that’s as much a performance as it is a creative process.
“You have to keep your ears and your mind open to try new things and not get locked into your particular patterns,” Casal said. “You have to be wiling to abandon all that, step out and try something new. This band was founded on those kinds of principles — not to be locked into the same exact thing all the time.”
After three albums and hundreds of shows, the Brotherhood is plucking bits from here and there to make something new. The band had to prove itself to get out of the shadow of the Black Crowes. And though the Brotherhood does sometimes throw a few Crowes songs into a set, it has pretty quickly differentiated itself.
“The first couple months there was maybe a weeding-out process of some of the Crowes fans that were coming out to see what he was up to and making direct comparisons,” Casal said. “But it wasn’t long before we had our own scene, our own people.”