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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The Black Crowes: Warpaint Live (DVD)


RIYL: The Allman Brothers Band, Widespread Panic, The Rolling Stones

The Black Crowes hit the road in the spring of 2008 for a mini-tour that featured a nightly first set of the just-released Warpaint album being played in its entirety. This show from the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles captures the band on a hot night. Vocalist Chris Robinson has got his mojo working while then-new members Luther Dickinson (lead guitar) and Adam MacDougall are fitting right in.

Warpaint was the band’s first new studio album in eight years and the band is clearly energized. General consensus has it that the band’s new 2009 album, Before the Frost… Until the Freeze, has already surpassed Warpaint with an even stronger batch of tunes, but as drummer Steve Gorman has noted in a recent interview at Jambase.com, Warpaint was pivotal for the band in helping them regain their musical “compass.”

Tunes like “Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution” and “Evergreen” benefit from Dickinson’s charged leads and backing harmonies from Charity White and Mona Lisa Young. Guitarist Rich Robinson and drummer Gorman form the band’s backbone, laying down a Stones-meets-Zep vibe on “Wee Who See the Deep.” Solos by Dickinson and MacDougall surpass the studio performance to demonstrate why the Black Crowes have always been more about the live shows, though they generally turn out stronger and more cohesive albums than most jam bands. Dickinson moves to mandolin for the poignant “Locust Street,” with Chris Robinson pouring on the soul. As with the album, the highlight of the set is “Movin’ on Down the Line,” the first song written for the album, an uplifting psychedelic rock tour de force.

The second set is only six songs, but features stellar covers of Delaney & Bonnie Bramlett’s “Poor Elijah,” the Bramlett/Clapton gem “Don’t Know Why,” and the Stones’ “Torn and Frayed,” a tune tailor made for the Robinson Brothers harmony vocals. There’s also an extended work out on “Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye.” This short but sweet second set is what elevates the DVD from three to four stars, as the band really digs in deep. (Eagle Rock Entertainment 2009)

  

Various Artists: He’s Just Not That Into You: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

If a dude admits that he likes a chick flick, he might lose certain privileges, like, you know, the privilege to not be hassled by his buddies. But soundtracks are another story, because sometimes they surprise us with songs we actually like or even ones we have listened to and purchased on our own before. As for “He’s Just Not That Into You,” which is the chick flick of chick flick titles, there are some songs on its soundtrack that will let you guys keep your street cred and then some, such as My Morning Jacket’s “I’m Amazed,” the Black Crowes’ “By Your Side” and the Replacements’ “Can’t Hardly Wait.” But even the estrogen-heavy stuff isn’t bad – Tristan Prettyman’s “Madly” and Erin McCarley’s “Love, Save The Empty” are catchy and worth a download, and make up for the sappy James Morrison tune (“You Make It Real”) or the over-played Human League hit, “Don’t You Want Me.” But the kicker? Scarlett Johansson’s “Last Goodbye” is the closer, and it is so not bad at all – there’s no surprise she has a sexy voice, but it’s her delivery and the beauty of the song itself that will surprise the most skeptical of you all. (Warner Bros.)

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