The Black Crowes
First Appeared in The Music Box, October 2010, Volume 17, #10
Written by John Metzger
Mon October 18, 2010, 06:30 AM CDT
A new trend has emerged of late, one in which artists are assembling career-spanning retrospectives by re-recording their material rather than cherry-picking selections directly from their albums. Ani DiFranco traveled part of the way down this road on her 2007 set Canon. By necessity, moe. went further on Smash Hits, Vol. 1, but with Croweology, The Black Crowes embraced the concept wholeheartedly. It is difficult to imagine that this practice won’t be abused somewhere down the road. In its nascent state, however, this ingenious process is a beautiful thing.
There is, of course, a trick to re-imagining material for a retrospective. Essentially, the songs have to be altered enough to peak the interest of diehard fans, while their core melodies and arrangements must be left in a recognizable state in order to satisfy those customers who are seeking a comprehensive collection of a band’s hits. With Croweology, The Black Crowes undeniably has achieved this delicate balancing act. Inspired by the recording sessions in Levon Helm’s barn that produced last year’s dual efforts Before the Frost... and ...Until the Freeze, the band essentially constructed its new endeavor by stripping the bombast from 20 tracks from its back catalogue and retrofitting them with roots-oriented frameworks. The end result is nearly as surprising and revelatory as Nirvana’s Unplugged.
When the group first emerged in 1990, The Black Crowes appeared to be more in tune with outfits like Aerosmith and Grand Funk Railroad than the Allman Brothers Band, the Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin. For certain, the influence of the latter bands has always been present in The Black Crowes’ work. Too frequently, though, it was masked by the explosive fury of the collective’s boisterous arrangements. Croweology essentially turns the songs inside out, revealing elements about its subject that many casual listeners might have missed.
For what it’s worth, The Black Crowes’ world still revolves around those magical moments in the late 1960s and early 1970s when rock ’n‘ roll struck a balance between commerce and art, and subsequently was transformed into an arena-filling business. Yet, by toning down the volume on Croweology, a lot of subtleties are brought to the forefront of the band’s songs. Hotel Illness, for example, builds upon The Beatles’ Get Back, and the gospel flavors inherent to tracks like Soul Singing and Morning Song are magnified until they significantly elevate the material. In the case of Downtown Money Waster, The Black Crowes simply revels in the blues, much as Led Zeppelin once did.
For the most part, Croweology unfolds in a similar fashion to a concert by The Black Crowes, especially now that guitarist Luther Dickinson has joined its ranks. The set’s sequencing is designed to highlight the outfit’s newfound dynamic range, and the heady jams that surface within the material neatly illustrate The Black Crowes’ musical maturity. The union of Ballad in Urgency and Wiser Time attests to how much the band has learned by spending a lot of time circling the Grateful Dead scene. Likewise, from the whirling harmonica groove that takes center stage during Thorn in My Pride to the way that Good Friday captures the same smoky allure as David Crosby’s Almost Cut My Hair, it is clear that The Black Crowes has begun to push forward once again. Without a doubt, the ensemble currently boasts the strongest line-up it has ever had, and fans can only hope that its impending hiatus is really just an excuse to write, rehearse, and refine a fresh batch of material.
Of Further Interest...
Croweology is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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