The Black Crowes

TrackAlbum
Sister LuckShake Your Money Maker
RemedyThe Southern Harmony
and Musical Companion
Thorn In My PrideThe Southern Harmony
and Musical Companion
DescendingAmorica
(Only) Halfway To EverywhereThree Snakes and One Charm
By Your SideBy Your Side
Oh JosephineWarpaint
AppaloosaBefore The Frost ... Until The Freeze
The Last Place That Love LivesBefore The Frost ... Until The Freeze
She Talks To AngelsCroweology

spotify-logo-primary-horizontal-dark-background-rgb-sm

 

Contributor: Simon Appleby

When I first read reviews of The Black Crowes’ debut album, Shake Your Money Maker, in 1990, comparisons with the Rolling Stones and Small Faces were completely lost on my thirteen year-old self. They were just a rock ‘n’ roll band, and at that stage in my life I didn’t care about any music that didn’t have heavy guitars and didn’t grace the pages of Kerrang! and Metal Hammer magazines. The Crowes did both those things, so I listened to them, and liked what I heard. Little did I know, The Black Crowes were never metal – they were the second coming of whiskey-soaked, blues-tinged, Southern rawk. Before I understood all that, though, I just liked the music. While their debut is very listenable, it pales beside their later work – but I would have to pick one track from it, and I would have to pick the one that my self-pitying teenage self most related to: Sister Luck (“sister luck is screaming out someone else’s name”). Well, it seemed true at the time …

Their second album elevated them from the status of workmanlike to godlike – The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion (1992) is probably still their best album. They added an extra member, brought in backing singers, and really showed their Southern roots, with gospel-inflected vocals, beautiful piano lines, buzzing guitars and lead singer Chris Robinson’s passionate delivery lifting these ten songs in to the stratosphere. It’s hard to choose only two – but I am going to include the irresistible rocker Remedy and the majestic Thorn In My Pride, with its soaring vocals and wonderful piano break.

And there I left them, for many years – not acquiring 1994’s Amorica until several years after release. What was I thinking? It’s a superb record, looser than its predecessor, but showing a continued commitment to brilliant songs, and a deeper roots inflection, the first hint of country influences peeking through. They save the best for last, in the form of the album-closer Descending, with a sumptuous piano solo closing out the album. Simply gorgeous.

For their next few albums, Three Snakes and One Charm (1996), By Your Side (1998), Lions (2001), songs sometimes take a back seat in favour of sonic trickery. That’s not to say there are no good songs – the balls-out rocker (Only) Halfway To Everywhere from Three Snakes remains a concert favourite for good reason, and the title track from By Your Side seems to show a renewed attempt to borrow the mantle of the Stones and the Faces. Behind the scenes, though, the Crowes were in a bad way by this point.

A long hiatus followed, and the no-longer-major-label Crowes who reappeared in 2008 with Warpaint were wiser, mellower and entirely in touch with their influences. The standout track is the stunning Oh Josephine. Pedal steel guitar, organ and fiddle make an appearance on this album, and they were to become regular components from this point.

2009’s double album Before the Frost … Until the Freeze explored the same sonic territory, with many great tracks, the second half of the album being a full on exploration of rootsy Americana. Appaloosa, from the first disc, and The Last Place That Love Lives, from the second, get the nod here, with the latter being a wonderful showcase for the vocal talents of Chris Robinson over a sparse acoustic backing, before a full band joins in to accompany him. Perhaps more than any other this album, recorded fittingly enough at Levon Helm’s studio complex, show the Crowes maturing to the point where they could be considered the true heirs of The Band. Check out the DVD Cabin Fever to see many of the songs from these sessions being recorded live in the studio, complete with appreciative audience.

In 2010, for their most recent venture in a recording studio, the Crowes re-recorded twenty songs from their catalogue, all in a mellow acoustic style that showed just how far they had come in twenty years. Not every song is improved by this treatment, but many of them are – the band are looser and tighter at the same time, and they really know how these songs should sound, none more so than on crowd favourite She Talks To Angels, originally recorded on their debut.

So there you have it – a rock band who transcended their original sound, went through numerous ups and downs and came out stronger, wiser and just, well, better than they started. If you like what you hear on Toppermost there’s plenty more, including several excellent live albums, and (excluded only due to lack of availability on Spotify), the unreleased-at-the-time Lost Crowes double-album, which includes the lovely Wyoming and Me.

 

The Black Crowes official website

The Black Crowes information resource

Crowesbase: An Amorican Archive

The Black Crowes biography (iTunes)

TopperPost #313

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

↓