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If ever there was a band that was born too late, it’s the Black Crowes. Frontman Chris Robinson recently stated: “We like the way records sounded from 1968 to 1972.”

Which is hardly surprising coming from a dude who views the modern world through a haze of marijuana smoke and looks like he’s just got back from Woodstock. But as he proudly declares: “This band has always been out of sync with whatever is going on, because we couldn’t care less what’s going on, ever!”

“This band has always been out of sync with whatever is going on, because we couldn’t care less what’s going on, ever!”

Shake Your Money Maker (Def American , 1990)

The Black Crowes (1990): On their debut album, the Black Crowes come on like the Faces infused with a little southern boogie. They were clearly influenced by rock’s classic past (their next album sounded like a long-lost Stones record from the early ’70s) .

Produced by Rick Rubin’s right- hand man, George Drakoulias, The Black Crowes’ debut kicked off with the 70s-style rock of Twice As Hard and never looked forward. The key hit single, Hard To Handle, was originally recorded by soul legend Otis Redding back in 1968. Originally written and recorded by Otis Redding during his final recording sessions before his death, the Black Crowes‘ cover of ‘Hard to Handle’ reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Rock Charts in 1990. More than two decades later, the song still stands out as a significant contribution to the world of rock and roll. An honest rendition of Redding’s tune, the radio promo remix of ‘Hard to Handle’ takes the cover even further by including a brass section throughout the song.

Among the Top 10 Black Crowes Songs could be complete without ‘Jealous Again,’ the second track – and lead single – on the band’s debut album, ‘Shake Your Money Maker.’ A purely blues-based rock and roll song, ‘Jealous Again’ is arguably one of the catchiest Crowes songs ever released. Elevating the song to a new level, the band covered the tune on their 2010 acoustic greatest hits album, ‘Croweology,’ opening fans up to a different interpretation of a true classic.

But the Crowes were no hackneyed bar band. Their youthful energy, and great songs, the Black Crowes‘ first single, ‘Jealous Again,’ was released in 1990. Frontman Chris Robinson was 23 years old and his younger brother, guitarist Rich, was 20 years old. other highlight was the acoustic ballad She Talks To Angels, connected with a 90s audience.

Possibly one of the most recognizable Crowes tunes out there, ‘She Talks to Angels’ is a beautiful song that focuses on a woman battling addiction. Written by both Robinson brothers, what makes the song even more extraordinary is the fact that Rich wrote the music for it when he was just 15 years old. Even though the song will forever be associated with the music of the early-’90s, as with most of the Crowes‘ music, ‘She Talks to Angels’ will hold up for many years to come.

With eight million units shifted worldwide, Shake Your Money Maker is still the Black Crowes’ biggest-selling album.

The Southern Harmony And Musical Companion (Def American, 1992)

The Southern Harmony And Musical Companion topped the US chart (still the only Crowes album to do so) and remains the Black Crowes’ finest work.

With a brilliant new guitarist, Marc Ford, replacing the errant Jeff Cease, the band were on a roll, cutting the whole album in just eight days. Its heavy, funky, soulful rock‘n’roll – best illustrated by the snaking Remedy and the stoned jam Thorn In My Pride – carried echoes of the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Sly & The Family Stone.

Two years after ‘Hard to Handle’ hit No. 1, ‘Remedy’ did the exact same thing for 11 weeks. Like all of the Black Crowes’ music, ‘Remedy’ stands the test of time and even 20 years later, it sounds better than ever. Taking a cue from an old Parliament song, ‘Remedy’ is most memorable thanks to the catchy guitar riff that not only opens the song, but is also a major part of its foundation.

One of the tamer songs on ‘Southern Harmony,’ ‘Thorn in My Pride’ perfectly captures the soulful edge of the Black Crowes. As opposed to ‘Lickin,” the band is obviously comfortable with performing the song live as they’ve played it nearly 1,000 times since the early-’90s. With emotional lyrics that have become definitive for the Crowes’ career.

‘The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion’ was the perfect follow-up to the band’s debut album. With even more rock and musical depth, the record showcased the band’s quick growth in just a couple of years. One of the shining examples of that growth is ‘My Morning Song,’ a tune with so much soul it’s become a regular fan-favorite at live shows. Besides the energy Robinson and company exude during the song, it also has a powerful breakdown that comes around the 3:30 mark when Robinson belts out, ‘If your rhythm ever falls out of time / You can bring it to me and I will make it alright.’ ‘My Morning Song’ proves to be a track that has a lasting effect on its listener.

In essence this album is the Crowes’ Sticky Fingers.

Amorica (American, 1994)

For serious Crowes aficionados this third album represents the band’s artistic peak. Amorica was markedly different to the first two albums. Opener Gone kicked ass, but the overall vibe was more mellow, trippy and introspective. The Crowes were extending their reach. Its best songs are among the group’s zenith – particularly cosmic-cowboy jams “Wiser Time,” “Nonfiction” and “Ballad in Urgency.” Percussion-driven “High Head Blues” and afterglow saunter “She Gave Good Sunflower,” too. “Descending” is a gorgeous piano-gospel fadeout. It’s well-documented recording “Amorica” was a mess. While there were piles of drugs present during the sessions, (perhaps not coincidentally) there weren’t as many songwriting homeruns as before.

The album’s peak is Wiser Time, an uplifting, spiritual psychedelic jam. The single High Head Blues evoked the swamp-rock of Creedence Clearwater Revival. At the end there’s Descending, a beautiful, world- weary ballad finished with a wonderful piano coda.

The Crowes would never quite reach such heights again.

Jimmy Page & The Black Crowes Live At The Greek (TVT, 2000)

It started, of course, with a jam. At a Crowes gig in London in June 1999 Jimmy Page joined the band for an encore. They played Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love, and it felt so good that they decided to tour together.

The resulting double live album features landmark Zeppelin songs and blues standards, but, due to contractual obligations, none of the Crowes material they played.

The master guitarist gels nicely with Rich Robinson, and Chris Robinson proves that if Zeppelin were ever going to tour without Robert Plant he’s the only man for the job.

The Lost Crowes (American, 2006)

Not just a bunch of B-sides and out-takes, but two complete and previously unreleased albums.

On disc one of The Lost Crowes is Band, an album recorded in 1997 but abandoned when the Crowes switched labels and cut the more mainstream By Your Side. Far superior to the preceding Three Snakes And One Charm, it’s a genuine lost classic. This is cheating a bit. “The Lost Crowes” is a compilation of two shelved projects, “Amorica” precursor “Tall” and “The Band,” tracks originally recorded around 1993 to 1997. But even just the latter “lost” album would be the fourth best Crowes LP. A click closer to “Southern Harmony” Longhaired like “Three Snakes” but more resonant. “The Band”-era highlights include blacklight-rockers “Paint an 8,” “Another Roadside Tragedy” and “Peace Anyway,” the pastoral “Wyoming and Me,” bittersweet “Lifevest” and tear-jerking “My Heart’s Killing Me.”  The druggier, “Tall” stuff like “Dirty Hair Halo,” “Feathers,” “Song of the Flesh”, “Tied Up & Swallowed” is equal parts good-trip and bad-trip. The buzz from acoustic songs – like lyrically twisty hayseed lark “Tornado” and paranoia hymn “Thunderstorm 6:54”

On disc two is Tall, an album recorded in 1993 and then shelved until six of its 16 songs were reworked on Amorica. The standout track (inexplicably left off Amorica) is Feathers, a meditative psychedelic blues.

An essential purchase for the Crowes connoisseur.

By Your Side (Columbia, 1998)

Chris Robinson described the making of this album as “the worst period of my life”. Following the departures of guitarist Marc Ford and bassist Johnny Colt, the band had signed to a new label, Columbia, who demanded a radio-friendly album in the vein of Shake Your Money Maker.

“It was the only time we put down out instinctual defences and listened to other people,” Robinson complained.

But it worked. By Your Side is a fine album. The Crowes blasted out high-octane rock on Kickin’ My Heart Around, and hit a soulful groove on Only A Fool. Even at his lowest ebb, Chris was still one of the the best singer’s in rock’n’roll. Starting things off with a raucous slide up the guitar neck, ‘Kickin’ My Heart Around’ never slows down for three minutes and 41 seconds. The song is soaked in overdriven guitars and a non-stop toe-tapping rhythm that culminates with an ear-piercing harmonica-laden bridge. With lyrics like, ‘Well I told you so now it’s time to go / Got to get this show on the road / Just stop kickin’ my heart around,’ it’s easy to get this song stuck in your head.

The disc does contain some excellent hard-rock. Zep-tastic “HorseHead” is the most metallic The Crowes ever got, with Gorman summoning “Physical Graffiti” boom. “Kickin’ My Heart Around” traffics in venomous velocity. Title track “By Your Side” recaptures “Shake Your Money Maker” strut, while “Only a Fool” and “Diamond Ring” are well-crafted valentines. The Band-like gem “Welcome To The Goodtimes” deserved more acclaim and wider audience. The best “By Your Side” songs are arguably stronger than those on “Three Snakes.” for sure.

Warpaint (Silver Arrow, 2008)

The Crowes’ ‘comeback’ album is all about vibe. Recorded near Woodstock – in a sense, the band’s spiritual home – Warpaint was completed in a week.

“That organic trip is really where it’s at for us,” said Chris Robinson, describing the album’s earthy blend of rock, blues, country, funk and soul.

While the blues have always played a role in the Black Crowes‘ music, ‘Evergreen’ is a shining example of just how far they can push their talents. ‘Warpaint‘ is the first studio album with Luther Dickinson on guitar, and his Southern rock and blues influence is obvious on ‘Evergreen.’ Dickinson’s chops shine around 2:20 as he takes front-stage for a lively and one-of-a-kind solo that bleeds perfectly into the final chorus.

With Marc Ford out of the band again, and Eddie Harsch gone too, the Crowes found ideal replacements in keyboard player Adam MacDougall and North Mississippi All Stars guitarist Luther Dickinson.

Warpaint might be the Black Crowes’ lowest-selling studio album, but it shares the timeless quality of their best work.

Left for dead by many after the limp “Lions,” the band returned with the much rootsier and potent “Warpaint.” The addition of North Mississippi Allstars slide-guitar ace Luther Dickinson revitalized The Crowes. And there were better songs again. Opening track “Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution” rekindled Stones sashay. Released during the White Stripes/Black Keys era, “Walk Believer Walk” proved a band could still do blues cool without being a garage-duo. “Oh Josephine” is a stoned heartbreaker and “Locust Street” one of the Crowes’ most poignant works. “Movin’ on Down the Line” is a fine highway song.

‘Before the Frost…Until the Freeze’ (2009)

The most recent Crowes’ studio album featured several psychedelic tunes, but one song stands out amongst the 20 offered, and that’s the Dylan-esque, ‘I Ain’t Hiding.’ With a funky bass beat and wicked guitars, the song’s vibe is amplified with Robinson’s lyrics and vocals. Opening with, ‘Rust on my pickups and blood on the stage / Seeds in the ashtray and coke on the blade,’ the Chris Robinson-penned song is flawless in its old-school rock and roll style.

After a 2015 breakup due to a tour money-split disagreement, “Frost” stands as The Black Crowes last studio album. But their previous release, “Warpaint,” would’ve been a more-fitting final statement.

Freak ’N’ Roll… Into The Fog (Eagle, 2006)

Where better for the Black Crowes to cut a double live album than the Fillmore, San Francisco’s legendary hippie hangout?

Recorded on the second date of a five-night residency in 2005, it captures the reunited Crowes in celebratory mood. Indeed, the band were so happy to be back together that they even gave the classic hits they often refused to play, such as Hard To Handle and She Talks To Angels. Best of all is the 10-minute Nonfiction, with the Crowes in all their self-indulgent, cosmic-rock glory.

The Black Crowes have always been a great live act, and here they delivered a great live album.

Lions (2001)

On an album full of blues-, soul- and classic rock-tinged tracks, ‘Lickin” stands out as the most memorable. Built on a wicked guitar riff manned by Rich Robinson, the song is filled with gritty vocals and lyrics as well. While ‘Lions’ may have caused some mixed reviews from critics, it’s hard not to argue that ‘Lickin” rocks from start to finish. Adding to its appeal, it is a rarity for the band to perform the song live, having done so less than 100 times since its concert debut in 2001.

There are a handful of “Lions” tracks that don’t deserve to be erased from time – most notably, joyous jam “Soul Singing.” “Cosmic Friend” offers psych-pop sparks. Having recently backed former Zep guitarist Page on a memorable 1999 tour and resulting live album sounds like it inspired The Crowes’ thrashy “Cypress Tree” and molten “Midnight from the Inside Out.” The heartfelt “Lay It All On Me” closes “Lions” on a high-note.

Three Snakes And One Charm (American, 1996)

“It’s my favourite,” Chris Robinson says of the Crowes’ fourth album. But few would agree with him. As the singer admits: “It’s funny, because people in England hated this record. It got the worst reviews.”

“Three Snakes” is Chris Robinson’s favorite Crowes record. It’s easy to see why, as it contains some of his most brilliant lyrics, especially “perfume and Valium” laced “Under a Mountain,” the strummy kiss-off “Good Friday,” Prince-ish power-ballad “Girl From a Pawnshop,” the trippy “One Mirror Too Many” and corrosive “Nebekanezer.” Lesser material weighs the LP down though, like sappy “Better When You’re Not Alone,” faux-funk “(Only) Halfway to Everywhere” and bar-band-ish “Let Me Share The Ride.” “Blackberry,” which hops with “Hard to Handle”-worthy Gorman beats and hot Chris vocals, is a rare instance where a Rich guitar riff tanks a Crowes track.

Three Snakes… is an erratic mix of signature-Crowes roots-rock and left-field weirdness. The more straightforward songs – the swaggering Under A Mountain, the country blues Girl From A Pawnshop – work best, but the curveballs are too self-consciously ‘out there’: the clunking freak-funk of (Only) Halfway To Everywhere, the faux-jazz break on How Much For Your Wings?.

blackcrowes_croweology

 Croweology (2010)

This album is a double-disc of mostly previously released material done acoustically and sounding like they recorded it live in the studio. The track list is filled with some of the Crowes’ best songs, and the songs are done with live arrangements in mind (several songs have jams and extended solo sections). The only two tracks that were not already recorded by the group are “Cold Boy Smile” (a song that was penned and played live during the 2005-2006 reunion run) and Gram Parsons’ “She.” While it is a definitely a cool concept (think MTV Unplugged), and is an overall great sounding album, it still is a bunch of re-recorded songs, even if they arranged differently. Yet, if you love the Crowes, and haven’t heard this one, you should.

Of course, the group have several live albums Live (2002), Freak n’ Roll…Into the Fog (2006) (also a DVD), Warpaint Live (2009), and Wiser for the Time (2013)], and the Robinson Brothers’ acoustic live album Brothers of a Feather – Live at the Roxy,

The band’s drummer Steve Gorman is readying a memoir, titled “Hard to Handle” after their breakthrough Otis Redding cover.

Gorman is a clever storyteller and likable dude. Having been behind the kit for almost every Crowes gig and every single album, he’ll have a unique perspective on the group’s famously warring brothers (guitarist Rich Robinson and singer Chris Robinson) and the many stars whose orbits intersected with The Crowes. The band’s entire journey, really. Gorman is writing his book with Steve Hyden, author of one of 2018’s most critically lauded music tomes, “Twilight of the Gods.”

After months of speculation, The Black Crowes are set to reunite next year in honor of the 30th anniversary of their debut, Shake Your Money Maker. The shows will be the first time that brothers Chris and Rich Robinson have performed together since December 2013.

Last year, Chris Robinson assembled a band called As the Crow Flies specifically to perform the music of the Black Crowes again.

Although there has been no official statement, a tweeted photo of a billboard in New York City that says the band will be playing on July 17th, 2020 at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, N.J., and again the next day at the Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater in Wantagh, N.Y. The sign adds that they will play the 1990 record “in its entirety plus all the hits.

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Comments
  1. I saw them twice during the Money Maker era. One of the best and one of the worst shows I ever attended. They like their herbs strong those brothers

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