The Black Crowes: Croweology

RIYL: Ryan Bingham & the Dead Horses, Derek & the Dominoes, The Derek Trucks Band

The Black Crowes are going on hiatus in 2011 and already delivered a great new double album with last year’s Before the Frost… Until the Freeze combo. You can always count on these guys to mix things up, though. So instead of issuing a standard greatest hits package to tour behind, Croweology finds the band delivering newly recorded acoustic versions of two albums’ worth of material. The songs run the gamut from classic hits to deep album cuts. There aren’t as many rarities as one might hope for, but there’s a strong variety of material, some cool new arrangements and some great jams that are unusual for studio albums.

The set opens with a pretty standard rendition of “Jealous Again,” but this is the song that put the band on the map, so it’s an appropriate opener. But a new arrangement of “Share the Ride” demonstrates how the band is out to try some new things. The beat is based on a drum machine and hand claps, which make for a particularly funky groove. Guitarists Rich Robinson and Luther Dickinson throw down some great six-string interplay here and put on a clinic throughout the album for how two-guitar bands should operate.

“Non-Fiction” takes on a more majestic aura, while “Hotel Illness” smokes with some extra bluesy harmonica and a back yard sort of vibe. “Wiser Time” – perhaps the band’s ultimate jam vehicle – features more superb guitar interplay on a stellar spacey jam. “Cold Boy Smile” is the only previously unreleased tune and features a mystical type of intro jam that recalls the Doors’ “Riders on the Storm” before shifting into more of a Crowesy blues vibe with Chris Robinson offering some of his most heartfelt vocals. “Under a Mountain,” a barnburner on the band’s underrated Three Snakes and One Charm, receives a new arrangement that transforms the song into Led Zeppelin IIIterritory with gorgeous results. And that’s all just on disc one.

“She Talks to Angels” kicks off disc two and features some extra fiddle that gives the song an Americana flavor. “Morning Song” is one of the shining gems of the set with its warm groove, sparkling slide guitar and more of that backyard honky-tonk rock vibe. It’s also got a great hand-clap breakdown jam in middle with Chris singing about how “music got to free your mind.” “Downtown Money Waster” is another highlight with some great banjo and fiddle that make for a fresh, higher energy arrangement. “Thorn in My Pride” – the band’s other supreme jam vehicle – receives deluxe treatment as the band blends their Rolling Stones, Grateful Dead and Clapton influences together for another stellar jam on this perennial fan fave.

The entire set features a slew of subtle embellishments that feel like fresh paint strokes on classic art work, just little enhancements that ring with tasty new flavor. The CD version also tries to keep the old school album vibe alive with beautiful psychedelic fonts and a picture inside that turns into a pop-up book with two crows sitting by a campfire in the forest, smoking a spliff while some purple mushrooms grow nearby. It all enhances the band’s classic rock vibe that is sadly all too rare these days. (Silver Arrow Records 2010)

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