The Black Crowes have been a constant companion of mine since I first laid ears upon them as an impressionable 12 year old lad in 1992. My love for 60s and 70s rock n roll has been well documented before and there are plenty of bands that have pedalled that nostalgic rock n roll sound since it first came about. What makes The Black Crowes different for me is that they have evolved through various guises, sounds, and distinct periods during their 22 year career. They are one of a few bands that are still around that may have started off sounding like their musical heroes, most notably The Rolling Stones, The Faces, and Otis Redding in their early years, but have developed into a rich, organic, and classic “Jam Band”. They have embraced a far broader spectrum of sound and influences that those with only a vague, passing interest in them may not have given them credit for. The aforementioned 70s rock n roll has also been accompanied by, Soul, Funk, Country, Gospel, and Folk. All coupled with a weed-induced haze and laid back vibe as well as fantastic, progressive, intricate, yet powerful live jam-sessions. Always favouring long set-lengths, taking their recorded album material and stretching it out musically in the live environment, while still retaining the power and fire of rock n roll at its finest, making them, as once famously quoted by Melody Maker as “The Most Rock n Roll, Rock N Roll Band In The World”
For me I don’t think there is a band currently working in the world today that can touch The Black Crowes as a live band. I would like to emphasise the “Band” element of my last sentence. There are the Springsteen’s, Rush’s, The Grateful Dead’s, and in recent years Green Day who are fans of playing sets that can top 3 hours. But, none of the above will play 3 nights in a city, play 3 hour sets on each night, without ONE song being repeated. I would challenge any other artist in the world to try and do that. They are a band that doesn’t just play the hits. They fully embrace their entire back catalogue playing whatever takes their fancy, obscure album tracks, b-sides, and choice cover versions from their musical heroes, and in a 20 year career with thousands of shows under their belt I don’t think there has been any setlist that has been identical.
They have been pioneers in encouraging fans to tape their live shows and to trade and exchange amongst themselves, building up a community of live music available to fans and collectors. In recent years the band have recorded the vast majority of their shows and made them available to download for fans on their dedicated live show website. With the aforementioned variation in set-lists and the bands jamming powers this has proved to be a lucrative avenue for the band, knowing that fans are well aware that their live shows are so varied and expansive, that a lot are willing to buy a show they have attended as a memento, or even if they hear reports of how good a show was they are able to download it to hear it for themselves.
The one thing that is apparent when watching and listening to the band in a live environment, as well as the enormity of the musical talent on display, is that they are a band of musicians who are so in tune with each other on a musical level, with a strong telepathy between them that can only happen when a band has played thousands of shows together. While many bands may be able to claim the same “Telepathy” while playing, I would challenge any band to expand their sound as much as The Crowes do, and still sound coherent and engaging to the listener. They are pretty much a definition of what makes a great rock n roll band. Individually brilliant, yet when brought together creates something rather spectacular, with each musician adding their own individual splashes of brilliance to a canvass of sounds that connect in wondrous harmony. I think the thing that defines them the most is how organic and natural they sound as a band. With every twist and turn that has occurred during the years the band has always retained that natural feel and vibe with each and every release.
A band with 9 studio albums, countless live releases, and such a rich array of sounds was always going to hard to define in a few paragraphs, and as it seems with each piece I have written, keeping things short and sweet seem to be beyond my capabilities when writing! So I will aim to provide a “Buyers Guide” charting the bands history and hopefully if anything I write makes you more aware of the breadth of sound the band possess, or even if you have never heard of them before and you like the sound of what you have read and want to check out more about them, then I hope it helps.
Shake Your Money Maker (1990)
Formed in 1989 around the core of brothers Chris (Vocals) and Rich Robinson (Guitars) they released their debut album Shake Your Money Maker in 1990. The brothers were joined by Jeff Cease (Guitars), Jonny Colt (Bass), and Steve Gorman (Drums). Its fresh and vibrant take on the sounds of The Rolling Stones and The Faces with added soul, thrust them into the mainstream, helped no end by their fantastic, and dare I say it, definitive version of Otis Redding’s Hard To Handle. The album was a classic Rock n Roll party from start to finish along with the timeless acoustic ballad “She Talks To Angels” and soaring blues-soul of “Seeing Things” and “Sister Luck” that showed that Chris Robinson was in possession of some of the most soulful, yet powerful, pipes to grace rock n roll for a number of years. Album opener “Twice As Hard” remains a huge favourite with its fantastic slide guitar playing and anthemic chorus. “Jealous Again” is reminiscent of Exile-era Rolling Stones with its bar-room piano and chugging riff and Thick n Thin is an all out party rocker.
The album was an unexpected (yet not undeserved) success eventually selling 3 million copies worldwide. Listening to the album today still sounds like the band were having the time of their lives whilst recording it, and for that reason alone, catching the band with the raw enthusiasm for the music they played, it is an essential purchase.
Twice As Hard
Hard To Handle
Stare It Cold
Thick n Thin
She Talks To Angels
The Southern Harmony And Musical Companion (1992)
The rather surprising success of their debut seemed to charge the band up creatively for their second album which was my musical introduction to the band. It remains my favourite, and in many fans eyes, their definitive album. Guitarist Jeff Cease left the band and was replaced by Marc Ford along with the addition of Piano and Organ player Ed Harsch. It is this line-up that is widely considered to be the “Classic” line-up. The album was written and recorded in two weeks (a ballsy thing to do when following up a successful debut), and its loose, yet impeccable musicianship, show the band really hitting their stride. The addition of Ford on guitar was a masterstroke as his style and sound fitted perfectly with the Crowes, and the energy and fresh vibe resulted in an album that still sounds fantastic nearly two decades later. I don’t think there has been a rock n roll album in the last 20 years since its release that can boast an opening trio of songs as strong as “Sting Me”, “Remedy” and “Thorn In My Pride”.
“Remedy” remains a signature song for the band. The powerful Rock n Soul riff with bluesy piano and a sing-a-long chorus remains an absolute anthem in the live environment. The accompanying music video showed Chris Robinson’s charisma as a front man and was a major hit for the band.
“Thorn In My Pride” is a wonderful marriage of acoustic balladry and gospel, with a rousing finale. It is still a staple of live shows and the extended jam the band employ in the mid-section can mean the song can last up to 20 minutes in length. “No Speak No Slave” possesses a potent riff and bluesy groove that is a call to arms against the hypocritical nature of society’s authoritarians. It has served as a belting opener to their live shows over the years. The live version carries more urgency against the albums more laid-back feel but is still a quality song that remains a favourite among fans.
Other album highlights include “Black Moon Creepin’” with its sleazy funk and the epic “My Morning Song”. The latter is a blues-rocking, uplifting soul number which again benefits from being extended and built upon in a live environment. It’s gradual build up for the songs finale is a classic example of the bands jamming powers as it spirals towards the heavens. The whole vibe and feel throughout the rest of the album from the slow-blues of “Sometimes Salvation” and “Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye” to the Stonesy “Hotel Illness” serves for a thoroughly enjoyable listen and remains one of my favourite all time rock albums.
Thorn In My Pride
Black Moon Creepin’
My Morning Song
No Speak No Slave
Amorica is album I have had a strange relationship with over the years. It arrived two years after “Southern Harmony…” and was not as immediate as its predecessor and was musically more complex. It has taken me the best part of 15 years to fully appreciate how good an album it is and as a result, I have come to the conclusion that it is second on my list of favourite Crowes records. It had its standout tracks that I had latched onto in the form of the wonderful rock-funk-soul of “A Conspiracy” and the genius road-song “Wiser Time” that speaks of endless days on the road as a band and how on occasion the band can “Part the sea’s” on a musical level. Its country-tinged, widescreen arrangement is a wonderful display of a sound that the band would fully embrace in their later days.
“Gone” expands on the powerful slow-funk rock that the previous albums “Black Moon Creepin’” touched upon, while “High Head Blues” has elements of jazz amongst its juddering blues.
“Cursed Diamond” and “Ballad In Urgency” really start to show the bands more laid back, stoned vibe as well as the expansive nature their music was turning towards. “Nonfiction” takes the acoustic jam stylings of “Thorn In My Pride” and takes the listener on a soulful journey. The more upfront, lighthearted “She Gave Good Sunflower” with its rather obvious reference to the fellatio talents of a young lady is a complete joy with a soaring guitar solo. The strongest track on the album for me is the wonderfully affecting “Descending”. A piano, gospel-tinged, ballad showcasing Ed Harsch’s accomplished piano playing accompanied by touching slide guitar. It is a beautifully constructed piece of music with soul searching lyrics. Combine all these songs with the bar room blitz of “Downtown Money Waster” and the beautiful acoustic instrumental of “Sunday Buttermilk Waltz” makes this album a wonderful listen. Like I said it is a grower and took me a number of years to truly appreciate how great it is. Repeated listening unfurls layer upon layer of brilliant musicianship and a band performing at their creative best.
High Head Blues
She Gave Good Sunflower
Sunday Buttermilk Waltz
Ballad In Urgency
Three Snakes & One Charm (1996)
‘Three Snakes…’ picked up where ‘Amorica’ left off as the band continued to move away from the good time rock n roll sounds of the first two albums, and started to really explore other avenues as to where their music could take them. By far their most varied album, it took quite a while for me to appreciate it in much the same way as ‘Amorica’. I always refer to this album as their “Led Zeppelin 3” due to its more adventurous sounds and providing more acoustic elements against the more layered approach to the louder songs on offer. Going through my highlights on this album shows how varied the material was, with no song sounding remotely similar. ‘Evil Eye’ remains as hazily endearing as the superior version of the later released “Lost Crowes” album. ‘Nebakanser’ in possession of crunching, fuzzy guitar lines matched with a wonderfully poppy sounding chorus line that you find yourself humming long after you first hear it.
My personal favourite on the album ‘Girl From A Pawnshop’ combines the enduring charm of ‘Thorn In My Pride’ and ‘Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye’ from the ‘Southern Harmony…’ record and delivers one of the bands most soulful country/rock ballads. A special mention must go to Marc Ford’s guitar playing on this track which mesmerises in its fluidity and melodic quality. It’s uplifting, gospel tinged, repeated outro line of “P.S. All My Love” is one of my favourite sections of Black Crowes music ever.
‘How Much For Your Wings’ rootsy, acoustic sonics has a campfire-like quality as the Robinson brothers share vocal duties and harmonise brilliantly on the songs urgent, Roy Harper influenced, acoustic riff that accompanies the chorus.
‘Just Say Your Sorry’ is a great bar room rock n roller and is the only track that is reminiscent of their first album, while the chugging intro to ‘One Mirror Too Many’ gives way to a swirling, gorgeously psychedelic, chorus. There is an old-school soul revue in ‘Let Me Share The Ride’, dirty sleazy funk in the shape of ‘(Only) Halfway To Everywhere’ and an out and out pop moment in ‘Blackberry’.
For all this praise I have been giving it, and commending its diversity and expansive nature in embracing so many musical styles, for years I couldn’t get my head around an album so varied in style and took a while for my ears to mature to the level required to appreciate it. For years it was the album I returned to the least. But gradually over time I really started to dig the albums adventurous nature and find it an extremely enjoyable listen when I listen to it now.
For some sections of the fan community it was after this album that they felt the band never really regained the majestic and unique quality of songwriting and musicianship. Even though the first four albums are widely considered to be the best in the bands back catalogue, to dismiss the rest of their output would be doing them a great disservice as the rest of my piece will illustrate.
Girl From A Pawn Shop
Just Say Your Sorry
How Much For Your Wings
Bring On Bring On
One Mirror Too Many
By Your Side (1998)
The follow up album to TSAOC took almost a complete 360 degree turn in terms of its style. After recording a full album entitled “Band” that was scrapped due to the record company rejecting it and wanting something more “Commercial” (“Band” was later released as part of The Lost Crowes compilation in 2006, reviewed later) Another line up change occurred with the departure of the ever popular Marc Ford and bass player Johnny Colt, and were replaced with Audley Freed on guitars and Sven Pipen on bass.
The Crowes set about fulfilling the record companies demands and came up with By Your Side. Gaining great critical acclaim worldwide, its immediate and radio friendly hooks seemed to breathe new life into the band. For all it’s positive reviews, it surprisingly did not sit well with the hard-core fans who felt the bands organic rock, soul, and experimental edge had been watered down into a chart friendly, corporate rock band. The band freely admit it was written to purely please the record company rather than themselves as artists, but when listening, for a band who’s heart and soul was not fully into it, it is a brilliant piece of work. Infectious choruses, fast-paced party rock n roll, and in “Virtue and Vice” they have one of the finest songs in their back catalogue.
The aforementioned song is the albums closer and thunders in with a Faces style riff and piano line. It swells and soars in all the right places with beautiful melody and cohesion in its execution. At the other end the one-two punch of “Go Faster” and “Stop Kicking My Heart Around” open the album at a blistering pace, full of pop hooks, brilliant flurries of Hammond Organ and gospel backing vocals. The title track follows and awashes itself with a chugging guitar decorated with pretty, sunny Hammond Organ, and uplifting, soulful, choir like accompaniment to Robinson’s powerful vocals.
The feel-good vibe continues throughout the entire album, occasionally falling into rather shallow lyrical content such as “Heavy”, and the lightweight musical endeavours of tracks such as the horn drenched “Only A Fool” and “Welcome To The Goodtimes” and the puerile “Diamond Ring”. But when the band put their foot down, and play the all out funk rock gospel of “Go Tell The Congregation” and party anthem “Then She Said My Name” (despite the fact lyrically, it sounds like the band are taking the piss), it is infectious and custom built for stadiums.
The fact that this album is the one the band return to the least in their revolving set-list is telling. But, it hit all the marks the record company were looking for. Radio-play for the band increased, high profile support slots in the worlds stadiums such as Aerosmith at Wembley Stadium in 1999, and the album was definitely influential in terms of getting more of my friends into them. They have not made an album as “balls-out” as this one in the years since. Instead choosing to embrace the more cosmic, rootsy, country influences to suit the band as they hit their thirties, and despite the hate from a large section of their fan base, it is an album I do return to with much fondness and nostalgia for my late teens.
Virtue and Vice
By Your Side
Go Tell The Congregation
Then She Said My Name
Stop Kicking My Heart Around
As the millennium turned the Crowes looked to distance themselves from the commercial sounds of 1998’s By Your Side and dived head first into their more experimental, groove and blues based tunes, except this time the vibe was harder to penetrate which made for a difficult listen in the form of Lions. While previous albums that were so vibe based as “Amorica” and “TSAOC” were open and friendly in nature, Lions almost sounded like they wanted you to really work hard at liking it. Widely regarded as their weakest album, it still had golden moments of brilliance, but if you were not an avid fan, a few customary listens by casual observers would have regarded it as tuneless and lacking any emotional and musical depth. While this may appear slightly harsh on the albums best moments, the fact that the band went on hiatus for 4 years after the tour had finished said that the constantly volatile relationship between the Robinson brothers had dried up their creative juices.
Undisputed album highlight “Soul Singing” has a pounding country blues groove and soulful chorus and remains a live staple to this day. Extensively expanded with a middle eastern flavoured jam section, its 4 minute album length sometimes run in excess of 10 minutes.
“Midnight From The Inside Out” opens the album as an uncomfortably slow sleazy groove with Robinson’s vocals shrouded in a haze of distortion. It is dark and moody, yet powerful and heavy, and sets the tone for the album. The sprightly, rousing call to arms that is “C’mon” is the albums only musical nod to their previous album and is a rock n boogie track tailor-made for a live environment. The touching and emotional country acoustic ballad “Miracle To Me” is beautifully understated. It’s a paean to Chris Robinson’s then wife Kate Hudson and displays an emotional honesty lyrically without descending into schmaltz. The song also contains one of my favourite guitar solo’s in the bands catalogue. It is short and simple, but it just clicks with the vibe of the song perfectly.
The most adventurous track comes in the form of ‘Cosmic Friend’ that see’s the band fully embrace their psychadelic tendencies as the song unfurls from a frantic piano riff into funky clattering guitar riffing before swirls of electronic waves rush in for the albums chorus line of “My Friend, The Cosmos Is calling” . The songs ending becomes a melting pot of electronic gloops and overall strangeness with even a babies cry thrown into the mix.
‘Lay It All On Me’ closes the album and is another trademark Crowes ballad filled with soulful piano, laid back instrumentation and Chris Robinson’s rousing vocals.
The album signalled a 4 year break for the band and when they returned they enjoyed a renaissance and rejuvenation culminating in some of the finest live shows they have ever performed.
Midnight From The Inside Out
Miracle To Me
Lay It All On Me
Into The Fog…Live ( 2005)
While the Crowes had always released live material up to this point, this official live CD/DVD is worth including for review as it captures the very essence of the band as they reformed with the triumphant return of Marc Ford on guitar repacing the outgoing Audley Freed. Filmed and recorded in the middle of a five night run at the San Francisco Fillimore, the bands pure musicality is laid bare along with the added horn section for this specific gig adding an old school soul punch to proceedings. As if the scorching live performances were not impressive enough on their own, according to the notes, the band had only one afternoon to rehearse with the horn section before the show, making the end result even more jaw dropping.
The Fillimore’s gorgeous architecture is a fitting backdrop to The Black Crowes’ live show. Opening with a fogged picture of an unknown individual taking a long toke of a joint, before the band make their way towards the stage, it sets the vibe for the show.
To look at the band look like they have come straight out of 1973 as they launch into “(Only) Halfway To Everywhere” from the ‘Three Snakes…’ album. While never really a fan of the original album versions dirty funk vibe, the live version with horn section is an entirely different beast, turning it into an epic retro soul number. Its original 4 minute length is expanded to an 8 minute extravaganza of soul, funk, and extended jams. Straight off the bat the band display their talent for breaking down a song in the mid-section and building it back up again and this songs breakdown and gradual rebuild is one of the highlights of the album. Full of wonderful horn work and a guitar solo that reminds everybody what an incredible guitar player Marc Ford really is, it blew me away on first listen and showed me this band are capable of suprising even their most dedicated of fans with their live prowess. ‘Sting Me’ and ‘No Speak No Slave’ follow in quick succession with Chris Robinson’s endearing stage presence at the fore. He moves, he shakes, twirls his mic stand, and has an infectious way with a dance move, all finished off with his wide grin that is a constant companion throughout his performance. Eye contact with the audience is key to his engagement with nods, winks, and sheer joy displayed on his face as he performs, ensures they audience are having as good a time as he is.
‘Soul Singing’ is expanded with a middle-eastern flavoured jam in the mid-section. When a lot of bands descend into self-indulgence when these intricate, complex musical pieces come about, The Black Crowes have mastered the art of making it interesting to the listener, never making it feel like it is overblown, making sure that the music carries the listener along for the ride, and never feeling like the band don’t know where they are going with it. The camera work on the DVD is exceptional. Catching the band communicating with each other with the smallest of signals determining where the songs are going.
All the band members are at the top of their game. Sven Pipen’s fluid and bendy bass lines are integral to the bands groove, Rich Robinson’s lead playing compliments Marc Ford’s more searing style brilliantly. Ed Harsch’s piano and Organ playing is exemplary and playful while Steve Gorman is surely the most versatile and reliable drummer currently working in the industry today.
Each song on the cd/dvd is given new life by the band, clearly enjoying being on stage together again. The 9-minute version of Hard To Handle is an absolute classic, as the stupendous horn section and Marc Ford’s incendiary guitar solo’s dance around each other in the bands jam section. Chris Robinson’s dancing and visible elation as the song progresses is infectious. It is the high point of the film, closely followed by the incredible version of ‘Space Captain’ made famous by Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs And Englishmen tour.
Anyone who has enjoyed any period of the The Black Crowes music over the last 20 years will enjoy this immensely. Chris Robinson’s voice is more raspy than on a lot of their earlier albums, and sounds frayed at times (forgivable when in the middle of a tour playing 3 hours a night), but as a minor quibble, this is the only thing to find fault with. It is a seminal live album showcasing all the characteristics of the band that I spoke of in the first few paragraphs of this piece. I use it regularly as an introduction to people who have never heard them before and every single one of those people are converted to their music as a result.
(Only) Halfway To Everywhere
No Speak No Slave
My Morning Song
Sunday Buttermilk Waltz
Hard To Handle
Let Me Share The Ride
The Lost Crowes (2006)
This album came about as a combination of fan demand and a ‘clearing the decks’ of record company archives in the lead up to the bands then forthcoming Warpaint album. The story of the ‘Lost Crowes’ was of two full albums (‘Tall’ and ‘Band’) that had been recorded, one was from the initial recording sessions before Amorica in 1993, the other was the album of material the band recorded as a potential release after ‘Three Snakes..’ in 1997, which the record company rejected and demanded something more ‘Accessible’ for the record buying public, which resulted in By Your Side being recorded instead.
Listening to these two albums was eye opening in terms of the quality of the songs on offer, as well as how ludicrous it seems that someone at the record company, in their infinite wisdom, did not think the songs were up to much. The general consensus amongst fans and critics alike when these songs finally saw the light of day is that the songs are amongst the bands best. Even the versions of tracks on the ‘Band’ album that eventually made it onto ‘Amorica’ are, in most cases, infinitely better than what appeared on the album. For many hardcore fans, versions of these albums had been circulated and traded for years, but with an official record company release they were able to be exposed to a wider audience. When most bands release a “Rarities” album, often it is no more than cashing in on a few demo’s and unfinished songs. These two albums are the exception to that rule and are worthy of inclusion in any fans collection.
Taking each album individually, ‘Tall’ was recorded before the release of ‘Amorica’. Most of the tracks featured went on to be included on said album. While from a distance it could be said that all these tracks are just inferior versions of the songs from that album, when in truth the vast majority are actually better! ‘A Conspiracy’ is less clinical, less dirty, and flows with a groove not heard on the album version. Robinson’s vocals are stratospherically brilliant on the track and Marc Ford’s guitar work shines beautifully.
‘Evil Eye’ was eventually re-recorded for ‘Three Snakes..’ and contained a very different sounding chorus, but this version is shrouded in a haze of stoned grooves and distortion and a brief, euphoric, wall of sound chorus line “A Little Bliss Forever”, and is all the better for it.
Two other outstanding songs are ‘Tornado’, a Chris Robinson solo tune featuring just him and an acoustic guitar. It is a delicate, soulful, country ballad and remains one of their most understated, yet brilliant songs. The other is the original version of ‘Descending’. While not particularly different from what appeared on the album, the chorus flows better with a change in melodic structure featuring the backing vocals as a prominent feature with Robinson punctuating each line, instead of taking centre stage and, trumpet solo aside, it is the version I prefer out of the two.
‘Band’ is the real highlight of the two discs and you can understand why the band felt aggrieved having to shelve it at the record companies request. It was a natural progression from the occassionally bloated ‘Three Snakes..’ record. ‘Paint An 8′ is a stuttering funk tune followed by the outstanding blues shuffle of ‘Another Roadside Tragedy’ as Steve Gormans drum work is the songs central driving force. The guitars noodle and jam around the relentless shuffling tempo with Robinson’s voice loud and in your face, before the band all click together for the powerful chorus. You can almost feel the bands energy emanating from the speakers as the song takes shape.
One of the albums undisputed highlights is the gorgeous ‘My Heart’s Killing Me’. Gentle acoustic guitars, subtle keys, and a swooping violin that remains a prominent feature throughout, lead the song on its journey of despair and frustration with a killer opening line of “You were so sad you made my dog howl, you kept the ring, forgot the vow” as Robinson mourns the end of one sided relationship. The musical arrangement and execution is beautiful with one of Robinson’s most endearing and soulful vocals.
Released to a great reception from fans and critics alike, it cleared the decks as The Black Crowes entered into their most distinctive, and at times, most controversial period as the band started to embrace the styles that they had only casually flirted with in the past.
My Hearts Killing Me
Another Roadside Tragedy
Before the recording of this record the band found themselves two members down. Marc Ford’s sudden departure two weeks before the band were due to tour highlighted the increasingly fraught relationship between himself and the Robinson brothers. Not long afterwards, Ed Harsch decided to retire from the band on health grounds that was greeted like a loss of a family member by band and fans alike. With two pairs of massive shoes to fill, the band drafted in Luther Dickinson on guitar and Adam MacDougall on keys before recording the Warpaint album. Possessing the most laid back vibe of all the Crowes releases, leaning heavily on the bands country influences yet still retaining that authentic blues sound, it came across as bit disjointed with the band seemingly not really sure what direction they wanted to go in. Opener ‘Goodbye Daughters Of The Revolution’ starts the album off in fine form coming across as long lost cousin of ‘Sting Me’ from the ‘Southern Harmony..’ record. Its joyous chorus and infectious slide guitar make for an enjoyable listen before the slow blues of ‘Walk Believer Walk’ struts and thumps with menace but sounds like more of blues jam than an actual credible song. ‘Oh Josephine’ gets the record back on track with the first appearance of the bands newly embraced country sound. ‘Evergreen’ and ‘Wee Who See The Deep’ follow, both home to bluesy grooves and the latter really shining with a massive production that cloaks a great Oasis-like chorus and a gem of a guitar solo.
‘Movin On Down The Line’ starts with a riff eerily similar to Led Zeppelin’s No Quarter. It progresses into a feel good country-rock song that sounds great when played live. Other highlights include the blues stomp of ‘God’s Got It’ and the truly sublime ‘Whoa Mule’ that combines country, folk and bluegrass wonderfully. Gormans wonderful percussion and great acoustic guitar playing from Rich Robinson and Luther Dickinson combined with laid back harmonica really make this song a massive highlight.
Overall the album is an enjoyable listen but finds the band torn between the two worlds of what sort of band they were and the natural progression into the more laid back country vibe as the band entered their 40s. But, for all the criticism it received from fans and critics who wanted something more visceral, it has aged well over the last 5 years.
Goodbye Daughters Of The Revolution
Wee Who See The Deep
Movin On Down The Line
Gods Got It
BEFORE THE FROST…UNTIL THE FREEZE (2008)
For what, for the time being at least, will be the bands swansong, Before The Frost… will probably prove to be the bands bravest and most rewarding album they have produced in their 20 year career. Not content to just head into the studio, the band decided that instead they would hire the farmhouse barn of The Band’s Levon Helm, which had been converted into a recording studio as well as being able to seat a 200 capacity audience, and record a double album over the course of 3 weekends in front of a studio audience. All the material was newly written, sometimes just hours before hitting the stage, and seemed to invigorate the band who appeared to thrive on the pressure of performing these brand new songs in front of their most passionate fans. The thinking behind it being that the crowds reaction would be a good indication of how good the material was, and they would use the best takes of the new songs from the 6 shows, which would form a double album. As an added pressure all the shows were filmed and later released showing how the recording of the album came about.
The bands obvious confidence in their material, as well as deeming it necessary to release a double album rather than a single disc shows that for whatever reason, they were going through a purple patch of creativity that they wanted to make maximum use of.
The record was released as a single disc of ‘Before The Frost….’ With a download code for the second album contained inside entitled ‘Until The Freeze’. The unique approach to recording and releasing the record was interesting enough, but the material contained within is also fantastic. Relying even more heavily on the country and bluegrass sounds that had speckled the previous album, with dashes of classic rock, folk, eastern influences, and even a disco number, it is probably the bands most eclectic album of their career.
‘Good Morning Captain’ leads the album off with honky tonk piano, banjo, and a playful slide guitar riff. It’s a rollicking opening followed by my favourite track on the album. ‘Been A Long Time (Waiting On Love)’ starts with a riff reminiscent of ‘High Head Blues’ from Amorica which snakes and slides its way around Robinson singing his, as ever, suitably cosmic lyrics of “Earthbound wingless dreams” and “Clear crystal burning minds”. The song turns on it’s head halfway through as the band embark on one of their best ever funk jams. The pace picks up and gathers momentum as a wonderful Dickinson guitar solo, complemented brilliantly by and equally impressive Hammond Organ jam, before Dickinson return with a solo that goes stratospheric! By the end of the songs 7 and a half minutes I challenge anyone not to be itching to get up and dance. It finds the Crowes at their most rockin’ since they reformed in 2005.
The quality doesn’t let up as ‘Apaloosa’ arrives and takes shape as one of the bands most expertly crafted country influenced songs.
The arrival of disco influenced number ‘I Ain’t Hiding’ comes as a bit of a shock initially, but the execution with Sven Pipen’s brilliant bass line, the exquisite guitar touches, complete with “Woo Hoo Hoo” lyrics make for an enjoyable listen.
A Rich Robinson fronted ‘What Is Home’ delves deeper into the bluegrass influences with elements of Crosby Still and Nash looming over the vocals.
‘Make Glad’ is all funk n’ strut as the band groove around a simple chorus line, while ‘The Band Played On’ is a straight up rocker. The first disc end with ‘The Last Place That Love Lives’, a soft, Chris Robinson solo number with the vocals given an atmospheric haze, as he laments and sings of being “Never blind to misfortune, never deaf to the sorrowful moan, set adrift on an ocean, until I find that peaceful shore”.
As the second half of the album “Until The Freeze” gets underway the listener is treated to eastern, earthy sitar sound that is ‘Aimless Peacock’ along with strings, and a stoned, mystical journey that is very much vibe based, rather than being a structured song. It works well, as that leads into the most bluegrass sounding song the band have performed yet in ’Shady Grove’. The fabulous ‘Greehorn’ with its wonderful 3 part harmony intro, that segues into one of Rich Robinson’s most pretty and melodic acoustic guitar lines as his brother sings soulfully into another organic, eastern influenced chorus with swirling keyboards, and lazy backing vocals. ‘Lady Of Avenue A’ comes on like an updated ‘Miracle To Me’ and the wonderful cover of the Stephen Stills/Chris Hillman song ‘So Many Times’ is one of the bands most melodically rich country renditions. What one has to admire is how authentic the band sound and how suited Chris Robinsons voice is to the country and bluegrass sounds that they have embraced.
As with most double albums, not everything works, and there are some duds present throughout the course of the double album, but let’s be honest, has anyone sat through a whole double album before and think that everything is great? But overall it is consistently good. The band alienated a lot of their fans with the change in direction over their final two albums, but those who have stuck with them and embraced the change were richly rewarded with this album. It is an album that will benefit with age, and I am pretty sure that it will be an album that people will rediscover in years to come.
In summer 2010 the band announced that they were calling it a day after 20 years and have spent the last year touring saying farewell to the world. As a parting gift they released ‘Croweology’, another double album where they have reinterpreted some of their most famous songs in an acoustic setting, along with a handful of new compositions and cover versions. While on the surface it may sound rather bland, it is the complete opposite. Some of the songs have new lease of life injected into them. The fantastic new arrangement of ‘My Morning Song’ with its huge gospel arrangement, and ‘She Talks To Angels’ decorated beautifully with strings and piano could almost be definitive versions. ‘Hotel Illness’ sounds like it should have always been played acoustically while of the new songs the absolutely stunning ‘Cold Boy Smile’ is in my opinion one of the bands finest ever songs.
The bands farewell tour ends next week, fittingly in Amsterdam, where the fans are travelling from the world over to see them at their final two shows. This is of course after two London shows that promise to be very special indeed. If this is truly the last time that we see the band perform then they have left a legacy of some of the best “Real” rock n roll music that the world has borne witness to. I also think that as time goes on, the band will be looked back on extremely favourably for what they have done musically, and will almost become more popular with future generations discovering their music. It will be a long time till we see the likes of them again.