The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world

The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world

 The Black Crowes

 Before the Frost… Until the Freeze

 

A distrust of historians

One of the reasons I so distrust historians is clearly demonstrated by the new Black Crowes platter. There is nothing about this album that bears any connection to the 21st Century except the fact it was made then. For those that follow the Crowes you will already know that the latest release on the band’s own Silver Arrow Records was recorded ‘live’ in Levon Helm’s barn at Woodstock over a number of nights. Not necessarily the most ‘current’ or ‘common’ method of production but it makes the statement early.

 

When all is said and done if a historian digs this CD up in a hundred years time they will proudly pronounce that said article harkened back to the dark and dusty old days of the 60’s and 70’s, possibly West Coast hippie in origin showing a range of earlier influences from Kentucky Bluegrass to um disco (Is that right?). The music is very much of that time, the vibe even more so. The hand-crafted nature of the whole writing-recording-playing live method of production seems like an anachronism.

 

These days the problem the Black Crowes have is that casual observers aren’t really sure what to expect of them. Everyone who was around at the time of their first record (It’s 20 years since ‘Moneymaker’ this year) has great memories of that CD. But whilst the Crowes may have started off firmly ‘Rock’ and ‘Stonesy’ in 1989; in 2009 they have finally become ‘The Band’ or at least considerably ‘Bandier’. Add ‘The Allmans’ and you get roughly where we are at.

 

An Audience for the Crowes

 

The question is: are they now too clever for their own good? Too much of several good things maybe? - Too diverse, too varied, too thoughtful and too knowledgeable? These days I’m not too sure where the new Crowes fans come from and like anything you love you tend to worry about it. The Crowes certainly struggle for exposure in today’s shitty market-place that centres on TV karaoke wannabes and sound-alike nu-rock bands. The older fans that have been there all along, like me, just get happier and mellower all the time. Mellow is a nice counterpoint when you get older.

 

I was first introduced to The Black Crowes when they supported the Dogs D’Amour on their first UK Tour in 1990. I’ve grown with them and aged with them and certainly learned from them; listening to bands I probably wouldn’t have on the back on a live track here and there. In many ways they are progressive in their outlook, their policy of allowing taping at concerts creates a wealth of archive. The fact that they don’t seem capable of playing two sets the same is to a fan an absolute treat, though I imagine to a casual fan is a bit of a pisser. To a collector they are a godsend, still releasing live shows through livecrowes.com means that you can pick up an ‘Instant Live’ style recording on FLAC or MP3 from almost any 2008 show and the back-catalogue is growing weekly.

 

For the record

 

There is a real feeling of reverence here. The noise of appreciation from the crowd between cuts is surreal at first. The album’s sound is great and to think it is all done live is amazing. Fuck! Imagine being in a room with your favourite band when they play their new record to you live before it is released, heck take it a step further and you actually get to hear yourself between the cuts when it is released! It’s a beautiful concept, and it is also a fine collection of music, though it pains me to say the Crowes might fall between a few stools. Rock fans will see glimpses of things to like in here but probably be a little bored or mystified by some of it; jam band aficionados will love it; the Americana crowd will hopefully accept it; and people like me will continue to appreciate the genius of the Crowes and wait to hear it all live on the next tour.

 

The songs themselves are a mixed bag. The opener ‘Good Morning Captain’ starts well enough; a swaggering mid-tempo ragtime rocker, which mellows and sprouts plenty of keys and some nice slide. It’s good, but it’s not going to pull any new converts out of the woodwork. The second song ‘Been a Long Time (Waiting) could have made it’s home on ‘Amorica’ alongside ‘Wiser Time’ and ‘High Head Blues’ it’s a great song and jams out beautifully.

 

‘Appaloosa’ and ‘A Train Still makes a Lonely Sound’ are next up. The former is definitely ‘Warpaint-style’ Crowes, maybe a bit mellow for some but a beautifully crafted song. ‘Train’ touches partly on ‘Faces’ territory, with a distinct country tinge; though you could imagine Rod and the boys cutting loose a little more on that one.   

 

‘I Ain’t Hidin’’ with it’s disco beat has already been touted as the Crowes ‘Miss You’ but I see an equal part of Jack Black and the White Stripes in there, especially as it rolls on. It’s a good song, interesting, but does stick out somewhat. Maybe a natural progression from ‘Soul Singing’ and ‘Lickin’’ from ‘Lions’.

 

‘Kept My Soul’ sees the Crowes in familiar territory, great guitars and all swagger; a fine performance but not a standout. “What is Home’ sees Rich take the lead vocal, it floats above some nice picking and slide. It’s mellow and brings to mind the West Coast in the late 60’s and especially CSN. I’d like to hear a little more please if Chris will allow!

 

One of my favourite tracks is ‘Houston Don’t Dream About Me’ now this is again reminiscent of the Faces except this time Rod and the boys would be hard pushed to do it better. A gem I’d love to see live. “Make Glad’ that follows is just a nice mildly pumping song. ‘And the Band Played On’ and ‘Last Place That Love Lives’ which close out the album are an odd pair. The former could be a wonderful song if they did it drunk – it’s calling out for a sing-along that never comes. I can almost see the flailing flagons waving in the air. It reminds me somewhat of an Irish bar band. It reminds me of something else actually and that will continue to bug me until I read a few reviews! The closer is a nice acoustic number with some lovely lyrics (in fact lyrically the album is consistently good). It has some nice folky touches at the end which gets my attention but it does end the first CD on a bit of a down-note.

 

One thing you realise early on is that there’s not going to be another ‘Wee Who See The Deep’ on here. The ‘heavy’ track from ‘Warpaint’ wasn’t the template for another direction on this record. The album is very mid-paced, very reflective and whilst it rocks, it certainly doesn’t rock too hard.

 

It’s a great CD to relax to though and some of the jams are inspired. One of the things that most struck me about the album was some of the individual performances. Aside from Chris and Rich who sound great (Chris the best for years) it is Sven who really does take a starring role on the album. His bass is consistently high in the mix and really lifts the feel of the whole album. Adam and Luther also seem to be enjoying the jamming and both make wonderful cameos here and there, whilst contributing to every song. It’s certainly not the Crowes of the early years and whilst the album is more cohesive than its predecessor I still see the further evolution of the Crowes carrying on apace.

 

The bonus CD available with the purchase of this album ‘Until the Freeze’ is effectively the leftovers from the nights in the barn and very much more country-tinged. I was a little frightened to review it here but once I’ve heard it a little more I will update the review.

 

There’s a lot to like here, and I for one can’t see this release getting as mixed a press as ‘Warpaint’ did. If I were to choose one word to sum it up it would be ‘authentic’. You really feel the band believe in this and there are plenty of us out there, and not just in the US, who will lap this up. It is currently growing on me with each play.

 

Mark