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Just off Charlottesville postponement, Chris Robinson headed to Millvale

| Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017, 12:00 p.m.
Chris Robinson Brotherhood, headed by the former Black Crowes frontman Robinson (right).
Jay Blakesberg
Chris Robinson Brotherhood, headed by the former Black Crowes frontman Robinson (right).

Recently, the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, who will perform Aug. 22 at Mr. Small's Theater in Millvale, were stifled by the very conditions that their recently released album, "Barefoot In The Head," seeks to alleviate.

"Nazis took our rock and roll away yesterday," band leader Chris Robinson said in a telephone interview on Aug. 13, the day after the band was forced to cancel a concert in Charlottesville, Va., amid violent clashes between white nationalist and counter-protesters, citing safety concerns.

"Someone lost their life and all those people injured over fear and ignorance and hatred," Robinson says.

Though Robinson, best known as the frontman for the currently inactive Black Crowes, is quick to acknowledge the pervasiveness of these problems, he remains optimistic.

"It's something that is lingering in the peripheral vision and shadows of our culture all the time, so we must persevere and love will prevail. That's how we feel," he says. "We rescheduled our show and we'll be back."

The album, the band's third release in just over two years, is similarly upbeat, combining the grandiose bluster of classic rock with the playful instrumental tangents that have earned the band a place on many bills with jam bands over the years. Robinson chalks up the Brotherhood's current status to an awareness of their creative priorities.

"We're not trying to fit into some sort of genre-specific thing to be on a format or medium that appeals to a demographic," he says. "All that corporate mindset goes out the window with a band like us. So, if that's your starting point, everything else is gravy. Everything else is, as Willy Wonka would say, pure imagination."

With six years of near-solid touring in their rearview, the band's members have found a self-sustaining quality in their vicinity to one another. This comfort yields the confidence to take their sound to unexpected places. On "High is Not the Top," for example, the band finds a surprising assertiveness in a low-key, albeit uptempo, banjo tune.

"Keep your cool and show a little cunning and out of this fire you will walk/Sweet your sour with a little honey, sometimes high is not the top," Robinson sings.

The positivity of the Chris Robinson Brotherhood is not easily derailed. It's also infectious. That optimism, coupled with the creative momentum behind the band, seems to point at more of the same to come.

"Composition is one thing, and then recording is another thing, and then playing live to people is another. Each one of those things gives the other one energy," he says.

Ian Thomas is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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