1. Who is the band? What is their history? What motivates them?
The first incarnation of The Black Crowes began in 1984 as "Mr. Crowes Garden" in Atlanta, Georgia a revivalist band dedicated to celebrating and playing 1970s-era blues-rock. Although the Crowes have had many members over the years, the driving force behind the band has always been the brothers Chris & Rich Robinson. In 1989, the rockers, who have been heavily influenced by Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, The Grateful Dead, Free, The Rolling Stones, The Faces, The Band, Little Feat, Humble Pie and The Allman Brothers Band, made a demo cassette tape that got them signed with American Recordings. (Wikipedia.com, 2009).
2. Why did they make this album? What was the passion or message that forced them to produce what they have? Or, simply what was their motivation for the themes they chose for this album?
This was the follow – up double album to the band’s reunion album Warpaint which came out in 2008. This was to be something special. A live performance of a new album produced over five nights with close friends and fans at Levon Helm’s barn in Woodstock, New York. The second album, Until the Freeze, (which will also be reviewed here), was made available as a free download to those who purchased Before the Frost. A card was enclosed in BTF which contained the password to download UTF.
The fact that they chose to record this album live in Woodstock on such a momentous anniversary says allot about the importance of getting it right and pointing the way back to American prominence at the same time you look forward to a new sound for the band. Fitting that a major event like the memory of Woodstock would call for a live recording of a studio album and this band rallied to summon their best.
The American songwriter, so important in the 1970s is back in the form of Chris and Rick Robinson. Along with Dave Matthews and Ben Harper, they are all reclaiming the power of American songwriting back from rap which has dominated this decade.
3. What message are they delivering through their lyrics and music?
1. Good Morning Captain – Wow, what an opener. This band definitely knows how to open an album and get fans revved up. The stomp of the drums and the roar of Rich’s guitar bring this album to life. Piano and the banjo figure prominently in the background. But the sonic power of America’s best live band is front and center and you feel like you are there live as a listener. Might as well get everyone used to the heavy discussion of lyrics. It stars here. “Good morning captain, I wish there was another way!” “If money was sand I couldn’t hold one grain.” Yeah, despite aging these guys are still having fun. “There’s mud in my eye, but I can still see.” Yeh, “Got a funny little feeling gonna be like this until my dying day!” Don’t let age slow you down. “Magnolia, let me rest under the shade of your leaves.” The American singer/songwriter is back! You can’t help singing along to this one.
2. Been a Long Time (Waiting on Love) – Remember how good Zep’s first album sounded the first time you heard it? Well with this song you are about to get that feeling again. After the Creedence ‘Born on the Bayou’ sounding opening. The power of Rich’s guitar on this one brings back memories of the band’s start as well as Jimmy Page of course. Chris’ harmonica adds so much feeling to the song. The organ in the background makes it all so real. The psychedelic lyrics bring home the Woodstock/Crowes sound so perfectly. “Never try to find it, feelin’ right inside it.” Yeh, you feel like you’re there. “The old guard on the hill can feel the chill.” “Earthbound wingless dream child born to necessity.” “Damp with this morning dew the world is bright and new.” “We are the horizon see our future smilin’.” Is it a throwback to a dream child sitting at Woodstock on an August morning or a new dream child born from the fruits of the flower era? Is it the past we miss or the future we hope for? You choose.
3. Appaloosa – After the first two jarring powerhouses this one slows it down for some time to think and dream. One of the most powerful songs on the album. The lyrics really are powerful. “Be struck by the arrow of weakness on the gilded path to forgiveness.” “Just coming home to walk my own floors. Just coming home to the one I adore.” Yes, the much needed rest that comes with touring and playing night after night, like they were doing for the Euphoria or Bust and Cabin Fever 2009 Winter 2009 tours.“Took your tears back to the river, knowing all the while there’d be more later.” “Sometimes the sun makes beggars believers.” The whole song is full of some of the best lyrics Chris has written since his solo albums. The music has no choice but to play a supporting role to these dynamic powerful lyrics.
4. A Train Still Makes a Lonely Sound – Back to power and glory. This is the song I most wanted to hear when they first announced the album and song titles before the album was released. Not what I was expecting, but wonderful anyway. I dreamed of a slower Appaloosa sound. But this one packs power. The guitar and drums are strong with the piano ringing in the background. More great lyrics. “Way out West is where I’m going.”
5. I Ain’t Hiding – The first single released as a download by the band. Takes you right back to the 70s and the Studio 54 era excesses with a funky kinda disco rhythm. It is also a completely different sound for the band. There are the tell tale sounds of the Crowes mixed with that funky disco beat. Then the rock roars back with, “I ain’t your friend, I ain’t your enemy, I’m a long shadow on the highway.” “Turn up the bass until your ears get soar.” I think that pretty well says it all.
6. Kept My Soul – Back to that Zep sound with the pounding, foot stomping drums and that powerful guitar as Chris launches into a love gone bad song of regret. “Who would die for love?” “See by these holes in my heart, that I’ve kept my soul.” The guitar solo in the middle just solidly brings back that powerful sound of the blues from the Stones and Zep. One of the best guitar moments on the album along with the solo on Been a Long Time. Kinda of an In My Time of Dying powerhouse.
7. What is Home – Rich’s song, performing lead vocals, which took me right back to Down By The Seaside crossed with Black Country Woman off Physical Graffiti. Just incredible lyrics and guitar work. “As I stare into the frozen starlight, my hands burn with the scars of past lives.” The banjo, guitar, keys and drumming make this another one of the best songs on the album. “Home for me, what is home for me?” “As I charge into the foothills of your life, stand under fading sunlight.” “Hope it will return next morning?” Wonderful around the campfire.
8. Houston Don’t Dream About Me – “Another week in the driver’s seat, with your feet up on the dashboard.” The long drive of a trucker’s life. Sometimes it feels like that on long summer vacation trips. “Just trying to make high ground has kept us on the run.” The economic blues people have been going through this year. Remembering the hard times of the past, touring constantly while trying to break into the spotlight. It’s all here in a song. “Day old coffee, dollar post cards.” Leaving behind the past and its troubles for the future. “A place away from yesterday, close to tomorrow, away from the sorrows of living other people’s time.” “How long til we feel a change?” “Who knows what will be?” You cannot help but sing along with Chris on this song full of crisp, powerful lyrics. Another favorite.
9. Make Glad – That echoing guitar, then the stomping and thumping begin, supported by keys. “Ballad and dagger, Amazing grace.” “Sons of rock bottom take your rightful place.” “Make glad!” “Find the beauty in the broken.” “May your heart always be open.” Don’t let the troubles of the world bring you down. Stay focused on the positive and the future. Then the wonderful guitar solo. You can’t sit still to this album. This one moves your feet even if you are sitting. Confirming the power of their live performance. Only one way to deliver this music!
10. And the Band Played On – “Did you hear Gabriel blow his horn?” An almost Beatles Abbey Road sound to the opening of this one. Then a Jethro Tull kinda “Let’s all gather around the grand piano.” “Let’s all raise our glasses in the air.” “Give a cheer to the jolly good fellow and everyone who’s cared.” Celebration of friendship and a thank you and salute to all the fans that waited for Warpaint and this magnificent double album. “And the band played on, through the wicked, wicked rain, in golden harmony!”
11. The Last Place Love Lives - Acoustic guitar and Chris singing. Really brings home the power of this sad dirge song. A powerful closer. “Up high in a mansion, on a mountain of jagged rock, behind two iron doors so heavy they need no lock.” The lyrics convey the meaning so powerfully. When the band kicks in it is one of the most powerful moments in this live recording. It’s as if they are there to support Chris and the grief he is conveying. Just and incredible moment in time. The guitar, violin and drums are perfect. “Never blind to misfortune, never deaf to the sorrowful moan, set adrift on an ocean until I find that peaceful shore.”
4. Does this music improve, change, or add to the genre? What does the listener receive from listening to the music?
This along with Until the Freeze are the albums which fulfill the promise delivered with Warpaint. This band is back and here to stay to bring the world a wealth of songs in the future. Welcome back! Eleven songs on Warpaint, eleven here and nine more to go on Until the Freeze, reminds you that these guys are very prolific. Allot more to say and sing! Even though I included allot of the lyrics here, there are so many more to learn and sing that these two albums will stay in rotation for the rest of the year and more.
There is also talk that the Robinson brothers will release a CD of their solo Brothers of a Feather work in the not too distant future, so there is a very bright horizon in front of them along with their fans!
5. Does it have longevity? Is it something a fan will like to play again and again?
I haven’t stopped playing it since I bought it. It is as close to a perfect album in this rock/blues/bluegrass genre as you can achieve, and all done live with little mixing and without the many bells and whistles other bands throw in to make their music sound better. Straight ahead rock and roll delivered as it was meant to be so many years ago.
Rating: 9/10 – A landslide achievement for this band taking it into the upper echelon of some of the greatest bands of all time.
Reviewed by Prof on September 30th, 2009