The Black Crowes: Before the Frost…Until the Freeze

RIYL: Gov’t Mule, North Mississippi Allstars, The Allman Brothers Band

Two albums in one, a CD purchase of Before the Frost… gets you a download code to receive the album’s companion release, …Until the Freeze. The download portion is available in both mp3 and FLAC formats. The vinyl version pulls all the material – 20 songs, 19 new Black Crowes tunes, plus a cover of the Stephen Stills-Chris Hillman song “So Many Times” – into a double album, but in a different running order.

Great playing, as always. Soulful singing. Strong material, even. The same lineup – still including Luther Dickinson, guitarist from North Mississippi Allstars – has been in place for a few years now (this’ll be their third album, if you include both the studio and live versions of Warpaint), and it shows on the seemingly effortless musicianship always on display on a Black Crowes joint. There’s a reason they’re one of the great American true rock & roll bands, and their hard-working professionalism is on display here. It’s a studio album that was recorded in a quasi-live setting, before an audience of fans at Levon Helm’s Woodstock, NY studio in late February and early March of this year, and the intimate setting really suits them. Standouts include “Houston Don’t Dream About Me,” the funky “Kept My Soul,” “Appaloosa,” with its simple and catchy chorus (and great guitar solo), “Last Place That Love Lives” and “I Ain’t Hiding” (this, despite its sorta-disco beat that’s a little hard to take over the course of the song).

Until the Freeze… is more acoustic and laid-back, with some fun country-ish numbers that really work, surprisingly, given the Crowes’ penchant for bluesy hard rawk workouts. The addition of fiddle and pedal steel, courtesy of utility session player Larry Campbell really countrifies things, and it’s hard not to wonder how the hardcore Crowes fans – which, let’s face it, are mainly there for the rocking guitars – are going to take to it.

Fans are going to love this record, but it’s not going to win them any new converts. Most people aren’t even going to be aware of this album. There’s no big hit single here, no “Jealous Again” or “Remedy” or “She Talks to Angels” or even “Hard to Handle,” the cover tune that put them on the map in the first place. And I’m sure that’s just fine for both the Black Crowes and their solid legion of fans. But I think they deserve more. (Silver Arrow 2009)

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