Exploring the Chris Robinson Brotherhood’s ‘Betty’s S.F. Blends’ [Vinyl Creep]
The Chris Robinson Brotherhood's 'Betty's S.F. Blends, Volume One' might just be the purest vinyl release of 2013. With no CD companion, the album is available exclusively as a 4-LP deluxe set, limited to 2,000 copies. 'Betty's S.F. Blends' is eight sides and nearly two-and-a-half hours of stripped-down and unadulterated rock and roll and serves as a perfect example of the kind of music your turntable should be spinning as you wrap up 2013.
As a part of the Record Store Day Back to Black Friday sale, 'Betty's S.F. Blends' actually hit independent shops the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. While the sale was more prominent in North America, 'Betty's S.F. Blends' was in stores worldwide, making the limited run that much more spread out. This live set is more than just four slabs of wax in a pretty jacket, though. It has some serious rock and roll history packed into it, making for one hell of an experience for the 2,000 lucky people who've added it to their collections.
The 4-LP set includes 19 live tracks that were selected from the Chris Robinson Brotherhood's five-night stay at San Francisco's Great American Music Hall in December 2012. While that's enough of a reason to get excited, fans should pay close attention to the namesake of the album. Who is Betty, and why does she get to pick the San Fran blends?
Betty is actually Betty Cantor-Jackson. She recorded, engineered, produced and mixed this volume of tunes, which meant a great deal to Chris Robinson. “We feel super blessed to have Betty’s cosmic ears and prolific talents,” the legendary frontman said ahead of the release. "We're honored and inspired that Betty chose our farm to table psychedelic hayride as a vehicle to continue her amazing sonic work." For the uninitiated, those “cosmic ears” have heard a lot of historical music over the years, namely from the Grateful Dead. From the late '60s to sometime in the '80s, Betty was a primary sound engineer and producer for the psychedelic rock band. Alongside Robinson's comments, Betty adds, "This was fun as hell. They're the first band that has really moved me since Jerry [Garcia] passed."
Betty had a lot of material to choose from in order to curate the four records of 'Betty's S.F. Blends.' With 96 songs performed over the five nights, she had to be precise about what she picked. "With CDs, you can just put out whatever you want and as long as you want," she says. "Knowing I had finite space on a vinyl record, I focused first on the performances, then on time length and tempo, and of course you want to leave the listener wanting more."
Diving into the set, you're first greeted by a gorgeous piece of art on the cover designed by Alan Forbes, a long-time artist who has worked with bands like the Black Crowes, Queens of the Stone Age and Rage Against the Machine. The beautiful artwork carries over to every single inch of the set, always staying within the simple color scheme of red, black and gold.
The beauty isn't just in the artwork with 'Betty's S.F. Blends.' The four records are each unique in their own way, all marbled with red and white dye. To say these pieces of vinyl are eye-catching would be a severe understatement. They match the feel of the music that is pressed on them: wild and free, yet strangely calming. As you drop the needle, you'll want to pull out the deluxe liner notes that are packed with great photos from Neal Casal, who also plays guitar for the Chris Robinson Brotherhood. In between the photos, as you listen to Robinson and company belt out some magnificent music, you'll find yourself getting lost in the words written by Ethan Miller, guitarist of the California act Howlin' Rain. Somewhere in the set you will also be greeted with a mini-poster from one of the five nights' shows, illustrated by Forbes.
If it's not obvious yet, 'Betty's S.F. Blends' is an experience like few other releases in 2013. To top it all off, and to tie the Grateful Dead's legacy to this live album alongside Betty's involvement is the fact that throughout all of the songs, Jerry Garcia's guitar, known as Wolf, is used by the Chris Robinson Brotherhood. In fact, as you peruse the photos in the liner notes, it's hard not to get excited when you see Robinson holding the piece of music history.
One thing is for certain: the Chris Robinson Brotherhood have never sounded better, and there's no doubt that is due to Betty's collaboration with this release. It's as though these songs -- some covers, some originals -- were made to be pressed and heard on vinyl. As Miller so eloquently states in his liner notes, "CRB endow 'good time music' with the kind of deep and heavy substance that feeds and heals your soul." Here's hoping that we can look forward to more volumes of this soul-cleansing musical nourishment.
Chris Robinson Brotherhood, 'Betty's S.F. Blends, Volume One'