Rich Robinson spent most of the last 15 years as the modern day version of Keith Richards. While The Black Crowes’ guitarist might not have had the notorious drug use and hellfire ways about him that Keef did, Robinson managed to squeeze every last note out of the Southern fried rock-funk-soul-blues-gospel hybrid that he and brother Chris Robinson could’ve. Going on a hiatus as The Black Crowes resulted in Chris having a solo career, when not tagging behind Kate Hudson on red carpet Hollywood premieres.
Rich, on the other hand, went full bore into Hookah Brown. The same Southern rock charm the Crowes had was there, but the band politics came into play before an album was even released. Based on a three-song preview EP, one hopes it will see the light of day at some point. Now he has returned with his own solo album, his songs and his voice behind it. Aside from a paltry few tunes with The Crowes, including harmony on “How Much for Your Wings” from Three Snakes and One Charm, Robinson really never had his own voice until now. And although the crux of the record remains his great guitar riffs and ample hooks, Paper is anything but thin on the vocal side.
Leaving perhaps where Lions ended, Robinson opens up with “Yesterday I Saw You”, a tune that is part Southern rock with a pinch of a reggae rhythm that fuels the psychedelic chorus along. The fuzzed-out guitars weave a lovely if murky pattern throughout that will appease the diehard Crowes fans and followers of trippy late ‘60s rock. You get the impression that although Chris was the front man, the brawn and beef of the Crowes was Rich’s music, as exemplified by a brief yet brilliant guitar solo. This fine work continues on “Enemy” which is eerily close to the opening of “Remedy” on certain listens. Here Robinson finds the funk groove and rides its thick, meaty result off into a glorious head-bobbing sunset. The doctor’s orders on this ditty are crank the volume, play air guitar and repeat!
Robinson comes off like a laidback and stoned John Fogerty on the adorable “Leave It Alone”, recalling Fogerty’s days with the Blue Ridge Mountain Rangers if they were amplified up to their gills. “Know Me” is a rambling and blues-based track that rocks out in a roadhouse blues style. It’s not bad, but after the first three songs you get the idea Robinson is not pushing himself as much, relying on the time honored groove here. The album goes down into a slower, mellow mood with the country-colored “Forgiven Song”. “Here I walk with the tears in my hand”, Robinson sings as fiddler Donnie Herron adds more substance. The tune has a bit in common with The Eagles’ “Take It to the Limit” but isn’t even close to a replica. The album slowly builds back up into the rock format with the uplifting if deliberate “Veil” as Rich uses a simple chord structure to set the song sailing, before jamming and fleshing it out near its conclusion.
“When You Will” is one of the three songs released on the preview EP from his Hookah Brown incarnation and it’s lovely, although done with more of an acoustic slant here. Robinson channels Ryan Adams on this song as it builds and builds with each layer of acoustic guitar and percussion. Another one he seems to have saved and dusted off is “Places”, a murky, swampy rock tune that creeps along. Robinson sings, “I feel like I did before”, on the song and it’s hard to argue that he’s not back on his game with blistering Hendrix-ish performance. Things gear down again for the rootsy Stones-esque “Falling Away” that is part country ballad, part classic rock. “Oh No” is another lighter, ballad-like number as piano and acoustic guitar complement each other, while “Answers” is perhaps too highbrow for its own good, as a string section is used. Nonethless, Robinson’s strengths are here in abundance, making you realize if the Crowes don’t reunite, it won’t be that much of a loss.