Rich Robinson: Flux

Rich Robinson's fourth solo LP quiets any doubts that he can write and rock without the Black Crowes.
Rich Robinson
Eagle Rock

Flux is the fourth solo effort from former Black Crowes guitarist Rich Robinson. Comprised of 13 tracks that don’t want for imaginative musical settings or soulful guitar work, the record succeeds on the merits of musicianship and writing rather than flash and spectacle. The songwriting is high caliber, especially when the material veers toward the R&B-flecked tendencies that launched the Crowes into the spotlight. Opener “The Upstairs Land” and “Shipwreck” would not have been out of place on albums such as Shake Your Money Maker or The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion. They are compositions that require a certain spontaneity, a give-and-take between the instruments and the vocals, and Robinson handles his individual duties with aplomb.

You get the sense, here, that Robinson may have been the most pop-conscious of the Crowes, especially on the hook-laden “Music That Will Lift Me”, which has a sweetness that’s too-often absent from rock of any stripe. But don’t let that notion sit with you for too long: Things get weird and psychedelic with “Eclipse The Night”, a stomping, funk-driven piece that kicks in the door of your eardrums without apology, though it never sacrifices hooks in favor vibe. That’s a compliment that extends to the dark, twisting passages of the Fairport Convention/Jethro Tull-influenced “Ides of Nowhere”. It’s heavy in ways that are unexpected, uplifting in others that don’t immediately reveal themselves and smart in ways that most writers wouldn’t try.

That Robinson excels at that kind of material is no secret. His other great talent over the last few decades has been crafting heartfelt ballads that walk the fine line between the rural and the urban. He handles the Macon-style soul of “For to Give” admirably, flies to the teary-eyed terrain of “Time to Leave” like a man who has seen the best and worst that humankind has to offer, and takes to space balladry with “Astral” in between.

These mellower numbers are clustered in such a way that the listener feels we might never regain the sure footing of those more aggressive pieces. Luckily, Robinson brings us back to the point of focus with the long, Floyd-cum-Robin Trower-style smoker “Which Way Your Wind Blows”. If it’s a missive to his brother and former compadre in the Crowes, Chris Robinson, it’s a hell of a message to send. It is, at least from one angle, the story of a man who seems adrift, unable or unwilling to see the merits of the path that led him to the highest of highs. No matter the inspiration, it’s a biting, tenacious statement that would be ever-so-more powerful were it the final cut on the record.

Instead, we move onto more balladry (“Surrender”) and the Led Zep-style stomp of “Sleepwalker”. Neither of those is weaker than anything found on the rest of the record, but they each follow a tune that one thinks would be impossible to follow and they feel more like epilogue than central narrative. That’s an OK problem to have, too much quality material, though it makes for a less-than-perfect record.

Still, Robinson has at least temporarily silenced those who may have doubted his abilities or suggested that he couldn’t create fine art without his former band. The group of players gathered here, including drummer Joe Magistro and bassist Zak Gabbard, is one we can hope Robinson holds onto for a while because when they cook, full-tilt and full-stop, there’s nothing quite like it.

RATING 7 / 10