There are obvious odes to a rock and soul past on Through a Crooked Sun, the second solo album by Rich Robinson.
Sporting contributions by such jam-band elite as Warren Haynes, John Medeski and Larry Campbell, the record is alive with loose grooves, wide-open interplay and the kind of focused but wonderfully unvarnished electric romps that spin the years back to the late '60s and early '70s. In fact, a standout on the album is a cover of the Danny Kirwan-era Fleetwood Mac nugget Station Man, where Robinson luxuriates over a lazy, hazy boogie groove.
But while Through a Crooked Sun might honor rock's past in terms of attitude and design, it was intended as a break from Robinson's own past: as co-chieftain/founder of the disbanded (for now) Black Crowes, a band with more than a passing interest in '70s-style jams.
Looking for organic, soulful guitar rock excursions with an undeniably retro feel? Robinson will have them for you when he performs Saturday at Cosmic Charlie's. Expecting a direct continuation of the Crowes vibe? Forget that.
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"These songs are me," Robinson said, referring to the predominantly original selection of compositions that make up Through a Crooked Sun. "They are not part of the Black Crowes or about trying to live in the past. This music is more about the future and the prospect of going somewhere.
"That's what is so exciting to me about this record and kind of where my head is at right now. The Crowes have plans to make no plans. That's what we said, that's what we did and that's what we're doing. Right now, everything to me is about moving forward."
Crooked Sun doesn't represent the first time Robinson recorded outside of the Crowes. He released a debut solo album in 2004 titled Paper. Also cut during a period of Crowes inactivity, the recording was pieced together following the demise of the Robinson side-project band Hookah Brown.
"That record was hard because I had written the songs for other singers," Robinson said. "As I didn't want to have the songs not do anything, I just made the record. I sang it. I winged it. And I learned a lot."
Crooked Sun capitalizes on an artistic partnership with Joe Magistro, percussionist in the last touring lineup of the Crowes before it went on indefinite hiatus in 2010. With Robinson gaining confidence as a singer and the tunes reflecting a sound vastly less frenzied than what is favored by the Crowes, Crooked Sun is a relaxed but soulfully charged album. Enter the likes of guitarists Haynes and Campbell, along with keyboardist Medeski, as well as the drive of a strong like-minded band, and you have the sound of a Black Crowe on an altogether different flight pattern.
"I went into this album with high expectations," Robinson said. "Joe and I have such a great way of communicating musically. And when Steve (Molitz) came in to play keyboards, everything really jelled.
"I knew I was going to make a record for me to sing on. I had much more of an understanding as to my voice, and what its limitations were and what its capabilities were. I felt like I directed that properly on the record."
Robinson was so pleased with Crooked Sun that he quickly cut a companion EP recording, a four-song project called Llama Blues, that broke the music down to acoustic, blues-rooted essentials. Released as a bonus disc last fall with initial pressings of Crooked Sun, Llama Blues has been re-released on its own digitally.
"After making Through a Crooked Sun, I wanted to do something extra," Robinson said. "I was tossing around the idea of doing a sort of acoustic instrumental EP that I would just give away. So Joe and I set up in one room. He played a tiny drum kit and I played with this small amp. There was just one microphone on the guitar and drums, and we just did it like that. I kept saying, 'Let's not overthink this.'"
Having completed a U.S. tour after Crooked Sun's fall release and a full European tour this winter, Robinson has amassed a repertoire dominated heavily by material from Crooked Sun and Llama Blues. A stray song or two from Paper might surface. But Black Crowes music has little or no place in Robinson's current repertoire. Instead, his set list these days is fleshed out by cover tunes by Pink Floyd, Neil Young, Agitation Free and War. And, of course, Crooked Sun's version of Station Man gets a nightly workout.
"Fleetwood Mac is just one of those bands that went through so many changes but was always great in every incarnation — from the Peter Green blues songs right up through the pop stuff with Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham. They were always great, and always great for different reasons.
"Station Man was just a song I found myself listening to. I felt I could do it some justice, so I cut it."