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. (their MySpace page).
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?
Until the Freeze was the free downloadable album added to the Before the Frost album set. It is part of the live performance produced over five nights with close friends and fans at Levon Helm’s barn in Woodstock, New York. A card was enclosed in Before the Frost 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. Aimless Peacock – Sitar, violin, banjo and guitar open this awesome morning breaking sunrise song which is one of the best instrumentals the band has ever made. Yes, a “song for everyone to sing!” The power builds until everyone is stomping and moving to the beat! Already one of my favorite Crowes songs of all time.
2. The Shady Grove – A love song like they used to write in the 70s. Wonderful lyrics. “Bonnie blows the breeze by the cabin door.” “No two lovers could ask for more.” “These old trees go straight to heaven.” Yeh, you know the place. Even though this is on the Until the Freeze album, it sounds more like a spring or early summertime song. Great guitar and drums throughout. Fantastic to sit back and relax to, or just listen to that fun piano on the back porch. “Here the seasons come with reasons. “ “So it goes in the Shady Grove.” Yes, “a song for everyone to sing!”
3. The Garden Gate – Get your square dancing shoes on for this one! Violin, banjo, bass, and guitar bring this song to life. Perfect for dancing. One of the happiest songs the Crowes have every made. Just a foot stomping folk rock song. This type of diversion from their typical blues rock proves this band is capable of multiple genres and can fit perfectly into any of them at anytime. Dynamic music that challenges the musician and listener. You can get the feeling from this music that Chris and Rich and the rest of the band love this kind of music in their personal lives. Why not play what makes you happy? At the same time challenge your fans to expand their catalog and ability to appreciate other forms of musical expression. After all, playing the same thing night after night on a long tour would drive any band crazy.
4. Greenhorn – This is my favorite song on both BtF and UtF. It may, in time, be my song of the year this year as well as one of my favorite Crowes songs of all time. If you miss the kinda songwriting that produced some of the best Led Zep, Beatles, or Stones classics you will love this song. Starts off with Chris and Rich harmonizing to the sound of acoustic and then electric guitar. Then those dreamy laid back keys come in from the 70s. Like the 70s never ended. Like they conjured up and brought back the 70s for a song. Just incredible lyrics to support the ageless music of a solo acoustic guitar. “Greenhorn dreams of salty seas of maidens fair and lovely.” Then the best bit of songwriting I have heard or read from the band in a while, “I wanna wake up in the morning, wake up and look into your eyes, before I see the world under darkening skies.” That line is just fantastic. It captures that feeling of waking up to look into the eyes of your spouse before you confront the world each day. So powerful. The music supporting those lines is some of the best and most emotional on this album. Drums, guitars and Chris singing with background accompaniment. Perfect. Imagine all the people who may never hear this song because they do not buy the Before the Frost CD. What a shame. “Greenhorn hears melodies from mountaintops and low valleys, of chimney smoke and Easter’s hope.” “He won’t stop to look behind on just what used to be.” This sounds like a carryover from Chris’ solo album. It’s all Chris; he owns the song with his vocals. Rich’s guitar solo in the middle will bring back memories of the best of the 70s guitar solos. I really hope I get to hear this live in two months. Then the closing lines. “Days to years. “ “Child to man.” “Lonely fears.” “She understands.” They close with the refrain. Just awesome.
5. Shine Along – Back to that fantastic Zep sound! The blues played on banjo with violin supporting… “Well my rider done left me, mama wouldn’t even close the door.” The piano makes you feel like you’re in a New Orleans bar in the 1800s listening to this folk anthem. Violin, banjo, bass, drums, and that piano just really set the mood. You feel like you are there. If you close your eyes you can see the band in front of you. “Shine along, shine along, someday love is gonna take me home.” You can’t help but sing along to this one. This is gonna be fun to sing to in concert. One of the things fans need most is interaction at concerts, like we did in the 70s. This is it folks. Easy to learn and wonderful to sing. They know how to make their audience feel a part of the experience. Even if you’re listening at home or in the car leaving the show.
6. Roll Old Jeremiah – The pace picks back up with slide guitar and drums as we roll on! The fun never stops. “Roll on Jeremiah, roll it all night long.” “The fox jumps over the hollow log.” Another foot stomping anthem which will be allot of fun to sing along to at a live concert. They definitely used this album to build up some show tunes. “It’s just another day from here to there.” “Yes, the wind it is a simple friend, what brought you here can take you home.” The way good songs used to be written in the past. Get your audience to sing along with you.
7. Lady of Avenue A – Another of the best songs on the album. This one set in either New Orleans or Paris itself. Guitar and piano open this up so perfectly. This band uses the two album format to provide wonderful stories and songs that will live way past this year. “You said goodnight, wrapped your scarf up tight, and left into a winter scene.” The piano, at times, provides the effect of falling snow. “You fall asleep.” “I hear you breathe.” “The snow outside.” “I make some tea.” “The cat’s awake and plays with string, as I slip into a dream.” “Good times and lost nights on Avenue A, don’t let the bright lights take you away.” A real mood setter. Time to enjoy the good times before life rushes them by. In today’s hurried atmosphere this one really helps calm things down.
8. So Many Times – When I first read this song was going to be on the album, I searched out Steven Stills original version to get an idea what to expect. He does a fantastic job, but the Crowes have done what few can accomplish…outdo the original. I have found few groups that cover songs as well as the original songwriter. The Crowes have covered many songs with some success and some missing the mark. This one on the other hand truly improves on the original. This one is much fuller musically, with support of background singers. It is also more immediate and much more emotional with all of the support of the slide guitar, drums, banjo, and guitars. Much more resonance than Steven Stills solo acoustic version. However, in Stills defense, I have not heard a live version of him singing the song.
The song delivered live has even more power than the lyrics suggest. If you are gonna set out to cover a song, IMHO, you should improve the song in some way, especially if you are including it as a track on your new ‘studio’ album.
Stills has always been one of my favorites from the CSN&Y clan. So the lyrics are deep and as perfect in today’s world as they were when they were first delivered in the 70s. “Those in the city, reaching out to grab hold.” “Does it matter at all, who survives and who falls, when we live under darkness, and hide behind walls?” “Where are the answers to the problems we face?” Another generation crying out for answers like the Flower Power generation. Yes, it took a while to get used to the twangy sound of the song, but this song was a great choice and perfectly placed right before the closer.
9. Fork in the Road – Solo acoustic strumming of the guitar, then the piano and bass. “The wine may have gone sour, but you can’t blame the band.” The closer. “There’s a fork in the river, no time to think twice.” Back to reality. We can choose. Do we want to bring back what we seem to have lost or continue on the fast paced track we seem to have adopted? “Once found a rainbow, lyin’ flat on the ground.” “I just kept walkin’ thinking more were around.” Do we miss what we have right now? “A fork in the river is where we begin.” Yes, there is a beginning every day. What do we chose to do with it? An echo to the past, one more time, “There are two paths you can go by, but in the long run, there’s still time to change the road you’re on.” “And it makes me wonder.” (Page, Plant, etc., 1974).
Yeh, it does make you wonder. But not about how well these guys are doing!
4. Does this music improve, change, or add to the genre? What does the listener receive from listening to the music?
This album and Before the Frost together bring back memories of Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti every time I hear them. Every song is strong IMHO. This band is back and here to stay to bring the world a wealth of songs in the future. If you could bring together the best of Steven Stills Manassas double album and PG that is the feeling I get when I listen to these albums back to back. Taken separately they are two of the band’s strongest albums. Together they make a Physical Graffiti/Manassas statement bringing the band to what may be the height of their productivity after more than ten years on the road and recording.
Most fans would describe this as a touring live band who occasionally steps into the studio to write an album. They have long been considered one of the best American live bands and the format for these new albums was a no – brainer. But how do you make it different than the Warpaint Live CD and DVD they released earlier in the year? Bring in a cartload of new songs with multiple genre formats and blow your fans and listeners away with your talent. Success achieved.
As a fan you gotta be impressed with the output from this band. To do these two albums live without the use of studio tricks not knowing what to expect from a live audience really captured the power and grace of this band. It is gonna be hard to top this double album duo. But somehow I get the feeling this band has just re-energized and are ready to fill the record stores with even more music!
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. The albums contain some of their best songs in years and each record is a standalone success that you can listen to individually and appreciate in its fullness.
Rating: 10/10 - This one is just a little more consistent and contains Greenhorn, my favorite song. But both albums are absolutely as perfect as live albums can be produced. More band/audience interplay would have made this even more impressive. But somehow I think the band is saving their antics for those willing to come and see them live.
Reviewed by Prof on September 30th, 2009