Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Music: Freak n’ Roll…Into the Fog by The Black Crowes

It is hard to believe that the Black Crowes have been performing for 16 years. When the band’s debut recording, Shake Your Money Maker, was released in 1990, the music they made was deemed old fashioned by the cultural norms of that generation. No the children of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s were more about Hip Hop and other Urban music. But for those late baby boomers born before 1960, it is clear where the music the Crowes played came from…The Faces, Joe Cocker, and The Rolling Stones. And the Black Crowes recreate that musical environment better than any other band since the originals. This is music based on a genre that arose during the greatest period of popular music, 1969 through 1972. The Crowes do it a mighty justice.

This sound the Black Crowes so lovingly capture is characterized by riff-based guitar playing supported with acoustic piano, Fender Rhodes, and/or Hammond B3 organ (in any combination) with a typical rhythm section of bass and drums. A good bit of slide guitar is employed and horn sections and back-up singers are often present. This results in the perfect Rock & roll potion of loosely played, Blues and Soul-based music – think Mad Dogs & Englishmen, Exile on Main Street and A Wink is as Good as a Nod. This music is “Give Peace a Chance” Indeed.

At the dawn of the new millennia, the Crowes intelligently joined the ranks of jam bands as did the Allman Brothers, Little Feat, and Bruce Hornsby, performing lengthy shows with much improvisation of the band’s own book as well as copious covers of The Band, Joe Cocker, The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones. Also, the Crowes joined the Allman Brothers Band by releasing the recordings of their recent tours on Instant Live. These shows are burned direct to disc, mixed and ready for distribution, typically within three to four weeks of the show.

Presently, the Crowes release a specially priced, two-disc live set from the Fillmore West in San Francisco on Eagle Records. The release beautifully captures this fine band in full adulthood. The 2006 edition of the Black Crowes is not the same band of 1990’s “Twice As Hard” and “Hard To Handle.” Enigmatic lead singer Chris Robinson’s has grown into an expressively soulful singer. His brother, Rich Robinson’s command of the Keith Richard-Ron Wood school of electric guitar is fully realized. The remaining core band members are guitarist Marc Ford, keyboardist Ed Hawrysch, bassist, Suen Pipien and drummer Steve Gorman. The addition of two female backup singers and the four-piece Left Coast Horns make this edition of the Black Crowes as mini-Mad Dogs & Englishmen.

The Crowes turn in incendiary performances of “Sting Me,” “Soul Singing,” and “My Morning Song.” “Jealous Again” is molten and “Hard to Handle” humid with Southern funk. The Left Coast Horns chart like the section behind The Band for Rock of Ages. Acoustically, the band turns in fine performances of “Cursed Diamonds” and “She Talks to Angels.”

In pursuing the Crowes Instant Live catalog one is first struck with the horizon of songs covered in grand jam band fashion. Specifically here is a splendid “Space Captain” soulfully updated from Joe Cocker’s 1970 performance. Also covered are Little Walter Jacobs’ “Mellow Down Easy” and The Band’s “The Night They Drove Ol’ Dixie Down.” The latter song has been covered by other jam bands, most notably the Allman Brothers, but no cover approaches the fire of the Crowes. Forgive them for the Hippie posture, The Black Crowes are a great band with much left to say.

Track Listing:

Disc 1: (Only) Halfway To Everywhere; Sting Me; No Speak No Slave; Soul Singing; Welcome To The Goodtimes; Jealous Again; Space Captain; My Morning Song; Sunday Night Buttermilk Waltz.

Disc 2: Cursed Diamond; She Talks To Angels; Wiser Time; Non Fiction; Seeing Things; Hard To Handle; Let Me Share The Ride; Mellow Down Easy; Remedy; The Night They Drove Ol' Dixie Down.


Marc Ford, Rich Robinson: Vocals, Guitar; Chris Robinson: Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Harmonica; Suen Pipien: Vocals, Bass Guitar; Joshi Marshall: Alto Saxophone; David Ellis: Tenor Saxophone; Gavin Distasi: Trumpet; Marty Wehner: Trombone; Ed Hawrysch: Keyboards; Steve Gorman: Drums, Percussion; Charity White, Mona Lisa Young: Background Vocals.

This review was first published in Blogcritics.org

© Copyright, C. Michael Bailey, 2006