It’s a shame that the vinyl-only Betty’s S.F. Blends, Volume One is limited to 2,000 copies because it’s damn good. The quadruple-LP, live set is culled from a five-night run in 2012, recorded by Grateful Dead engineer Betty Cantor-Jackson. (Her recordings of all five shows are downloadable.) It captures the Chris Robinson Brotherhood peaking, in their third year, as a satisfying hybrid of Bakersfield country and laid-back California psychedelia. Neal Casal’s lead guitar is often reminiscent of Jerry Garcia’s—his tone and melodic choices are familiar, his notes are shaped similarly. Adam MacDougall’s keys, purposefully limited to the weirdo tones of the Fender Rhodes, the Moog and the clavinet, give this band and these tunes a signature sound, akin to the Burrito Brothers’ B-bent Telecaster foghorn and pedal steel. Check out Robinson’s guitar in the right channel—he’s doing interesting stuff here. Among many standouts: live versions of the slack psychedelic anthem “Tulsa Yesterday” and “Reflections on a Broken Mirror.” “Tornado,” a Black Crowes tune, sounds like a long-lost Garcia Band classic. “Meanwhile in the Gods” has a big football stadium beat and riff and a super-hooky synth line. There are some other guit-rockin’ smokers here, too. (Note Robinson’s vocal phrasing on “Saturday Night in S.F.”) But “Train Robbers” is the crystalline entity. Muddy Dutton’s dirigible-like bassline and George Sluppick’s whip-tight snare rolls cast the tune as a theatrical number, and Robinson’s supernaturally excellent singing is laid bare, as a bandit pondering one last heist. This, friends, is music.
– Richard B. Simon Relix