||THE BLACK CROWES
Shake Your Money Maker (LP)
The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion (2LP)
Three Snakes And One Charm (2LP)
(American / Ume)
Release Date: 4th December 2015
American hard rock band The Black Crowes, formed in the late 80s and had a string of hit albums and singles. Their brand of blues rock and classic Southern rock proved very popular around the world. Their first four albums get the 180g vinyl reissue treatment, here, with solid sound and packaging to match.
With 8 studio albums and several live, acoustic and compilation sets, the band have quite a legacy that has seen them likened to the early Rolling Stones, Humble Pie, The Faces and many a Southern Rock band.
The band are led by vocalist Chris Robinson and brother Rich (guitars), whose fractious relationship gave rise to the recent split, the band's third break-up in total.
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Originally Mr Crowe's Garden, formed in Georgia in 1984 while the Robinsons were still at school, the band mixed classic southern rock with more contemporary music, before moving in a more blues rock revivalist direction. Signing to Def American in 1989, the band became The Black Crowes and started work on their debut.
Originally released in 1990, the debut 'Shake Your Money Maker', named after an Elmore James song, featured guitarist Jeff Cease, bassist Johnny Colt and drummer Steve Gorman alongside Chris and Rich Robinson, as well as a guest appearance from pianist Chick Leavell (Allman Brothers Band).
The album kicks off with 'Twice as Hard' and 'Jealous Again', both live and radio favourites, and they showcase the band's blues roots, the mix with sleaze and hard rock giving a solid and down to earth sound that's accessible and enjoyable.
'Sister Luck' is a slower and gentler song, quite melodic. In comparison, 'Could I've Been So Blind' has quite a dirty crunchy riff that with the piano, a little down in the mix for my liking here, becomes quite rock'n'roll.
It's easy to see where the Rolling Bones comparisons come from. There's plenty of acoustic moments on the album, but standout track is their signature hit and cover, 'Hard To Handle'. The 2 guitars work well together, and the vocals are powerful and clear, applying their own sleaze when appropriate.
The range too, like the guitar solo or two, clear and grabs you. From uptempo with the thrash rock'n'roll or Thick'n'Thin, to the acoustic 'She Talks To Angels', it's a great album. Singles aside, the album went triple platinum, no mean feat.
'The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion' was released in 1992 and featured guitarist Marc Ford, replacing Cease, and keyboard player Eddie Harsch. Continuing in a similar fashion, the album featured four hit singles.
'Sting Me' adds an edge of Rod Stewart at his rocking end, 'Remedy' a chunkier Southern Rock number with the piano and female backing vocals adding to a Skynyrd edge.
'Thorn In My Pride', a 6 minute track, is a slower track, the guitars and vocals played with passion; a definite atmosphere here. The harmonica in 'Hotel Illness' helps bulk the already full sound.
From a grungy fuzz to a clean sharp slide, the guitar works throughout the album, an enjoyable groove.
Following the abandoned album 'Tall', 1994's 'Amorica' followed, with its controversial cover. Due to changes in fashion as well as a more alternative sound (the roots are there but nowhere near as blatant), the album didn't sell as well, although it did quickly go Gold.
The chunky and heavy 'Cursed Diamond' really does rock, and the more acoustic 'Nonfiction' has some great touches. When the slide and blues are utilised they are powerful and blistering, but the feel to the album overall had moved on.
With tours and festivals adding to the band's fractions and this energy resulted in 1996's 'Three Snakes And One Charm'. The band's musicianship, like their sound, had developed and progressed, and in places here is more soulful, a sound augmented with a horn section.
The renting of a communal house to finish the recording process developed the band and make the process more organic. While that helped the freshness and fullness of the sound, it was still as far removed from the band's first 2 albums as the 3rd one was. This album has a real coming of age feel, and the singles 'Blackberry' and 'Good Friday' stand out.
The band split soon after, internal issues coming to a head, but have reformed, recorded and toured a few times since.
These albums have been unavailable on vinyl for many a year, the fourth one not originally released on LP, but as a 7" box, and the 2LP here includes the 2 bonus tracks included on that original set.
Cut from the original masters the sound is excellent, as is the sound. The bluesier tracks really do suit the vinyl format.
There are other tracks associated with each album, single b-sides, lives et al; room for a bonus EP or two with each? The 180g vinyl feels as good as it sounds, a format to be enjoyed and relished.
From 3.5 to 4.5 individually, the set gets a good average.