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The Black Crowes - you are going to have to indulge me here folks - were simply the greatest rock and roll band on the planet between 1989 and 1996. I say were because (A) they lost it after their "3 Snakes" album and (B)they are currently on "hiatus", but no doubt will make a comeback one day a la Tom Petty and The Doobies.
How can I come up with this sweeping statement? Easy - the band are all top class musicians who are as comfortable with southern fried boogie as they are with heavier rock, even turning to gospel-tinged material. They have been compared to Zeppelin, in the sense they can play different versions of the same songs on different nights.
Chris Robinson at his peak was the finest white blues singer of his generation. With a voice that is perfectly suited to the music that the Crowes play, emotive, spiritual and ever-changing. Although his love for Morrocco's finest export eventually turned his voice into a growl. His comments on tour sponsorship upset lots of people, which is exactly as it was planned.
Brother Rich is an accomplished guitarist, who at 23 years old was good enough to play all of the styles mentioned above, remarkable for one so young. Both brothers took after their musician father. The other members have changed over the years in classic rock band fashion, we will meet them all at some point.
Signed by Rick Rubin in 1989 after he asked "some kids at a diner in Atlanta who was worth seeing in concert in town". His label Def American had mostly hard rock acts on board, Slayer being one example.
THE ALBUMS Shake Your Money Maker (1990 Def American)
Lineup Chris Robinson (vocals), Rich Robinson (guitars) Jeff Cease (guitars) Johnny Colt (bass) and Steve Gorman (drums)
The Crowes landed into the pre-Nirvana wastelands of hairspray metal with this spikey debut, mixing Southern boogie with a couple of ballads thrown in, and a notable cover of the blues classic "Hard To Handle". An accomplished debut, but the band are not extending themselves here. "Jealous Again" and "She Talks To Angels" get that all-important FM airplay in the states. I've got the import vinyl copy and it ain't for sale! (I was offered £50 on Ebay for it!).
THE SOUTHERN HARMONY AND MUSICAL COMPANION (1992 Def American)
Lineup as above except Marc Ford replaces Jeff Cease as guitarist and Ed Harsch credited on keyboards.
Recorded "in the United States", as the blurb tells us. The Crowes' masterpiece and the finest rock and roll album ever made (it is!! it is!!) New guitarist Ford (ex of LA rockers Burning Tree) adds so much to this album, which the band move from bar-room blues to gospel to ballads to hard rock and all the way back again. Topped off with fantastic lyrics from Chris Robinson. Trust me if you have not heard this album you do not know what you are missing. Was a huge album in the States but relatively unknown over here although "Remedy" did go Top 30 in May 1992. A nice easy bass line too, for all you pickers out there.
AMORICA (1994 Def American)
line up as for TSH&MC above
The Crowes update their sound to incorporate the grunge explosion. This is a deeper album than the two before, with a far wider range of styles, a move into funk (P25 London) eastern vibes (the hit single High Head Blues) as well as beautiful ballads and more hard rock. This was released after an earlier album was scrapped and five of those songs appear on here. AND IT HAS THE FAMOUS BANNED COVER!!!
THREE SNAKES AND ONE CHARM (Def American 1996)
lineup as above except Bruce Kaphan (pedal steel) replaces Marc Ford. A horn section is also credited.
The Crowes are suddenly hip! Everyone loves them! This is the start of the decline sadly though. Another amazing range of styles (pyschadelia on Nebekanezer), (the Face-ish Blackberry) although many of the songs on here are slowed out and plod along - it's that curse of the horn section. Chris Robinson's voice starts to go from here on out. The music is as well played as ever.
BY YOUR SIDE (Colombia 1998)
lineup as above except Brue Kaphan is no more and Sven Pipten (bass) replaces Johnny Colt
A change of labels, a change of personnel. Sadly the decline continues. Again more styles taken here, the Sgt Pepperish "Virtue & Vice" and the Rod Stewartish "Only A Fool". The Crowes appear to be stuck in a rut.
LIONS (V2 2001)
lineup now Chris and Rich Robinson, Audley Freed (guitars), Andy Hess (bass), Eddie Harsch.
Produced by Don Was and the first album in a long road back to superstardom (I hope) the Crowes stop experimenting and get back to what they do best. It's not original, it's not gonna change the world, but it is rock and roll at its finest. And then they go and split up.
There are also two live albums, "Live At The Greek with Jimmy Page", and the ingeniously titled "Live". I'm not a fan of live albums myself. Go and see a band instead.
So - if you want good rock music, played by real musicians with a knowledge and feel of their heritage, complete with heartfelt vocals, laced with 70's flares and the taste of Jack and Coke and maybe the whiff of a tobacco product, this band are right down your street. If not well don't tell me I didn't warn you. The South Will Rise Again.
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