The Black Crowes
Before the Frost...
First Appeared in The Music Box, November 2009, Volume 16, #11
Written by John Metzger
Tue November 3, 2009, 06:30 AM CST
With the one-two punch of Shake Your Money Maker and The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, the career of The Black Crowes erupted with a loud, raucous bang. At first, the group appeared to be an unstoppable commercial force because its early singles — such as Remedy, Jealous Again, She Talks to Angels, and a scintillating cover of Hard to Handle — were virtually inescapable. Markets always shift, however, and soon The Black Crowes was fighting to maintain its initial dominance. Eventually, it charted a course of survival by embracing its jam-friendly appeal and becoming a regular fixture on the usual assortment of festivals, tour packages, and Furthur-minded gatherings.
The Black Crowes was never really content with this fate, but despite its frequent attempts to broaden its palette in the recording studio, the band also has acted as if it were trapped by its early successes. In a sense, its sound has always been constructed around a distilled blend of Otis Redding’s southern heat, the Rolling Stones’ blues-based rock, and the Grateful Dead’s elongated, improvisational forays. Although these same ideas continue to percolate through The Black Crowes’ latest album Before the Frost..., it also is apparent, right from the outset of the endeavor, that there is something inherently different about the group’s approach.
Chris and Rich Robinson certainly have had their differences over the years, and as a result, The Black Crowes’ line-up has been in a constant state of flux. Drummer Steve Gorman is the only other original member still serving time with the group. Since the outfit reemerged in 2005, though, the Robinson brothers have made a concerted effort to work together. By mending their relationship, they, in turn, were able to create a better environment for their hired hands — which now include guitarist Luther Dickinson — to contribute to their cause. In this regard, Before the Frost... is the collective’s most balanced outing yet.
Recorded in front of an audience in the intimate hideaway of Levon Helm’s barn-turned-recording studio, Before the Frost... unfolds at its own, natural pace. The album’s opening cut Good Morning Captain is, perhaps, an ode to the collection’s genesis. As such, it draws directly from The Band, though in the hands of The Black Crowes, the tune assumes the boozy swagger of Rod Stewart’s work with The Faces. The Rolling Stones, too, continues to serve as an unyielding touchstone for the ensemble. Consequently, Appaloosa and A Train Still Makes a Lonely Sound — the former with its country-soul leanings; the latter with its rumbling, hard-scrabble, rock’ n’ roll core — evoke the era that spawned Exile on Main Street, while I Ain’t Hiding is dipped in the disco-tinged grooves of Emotional Rescue.
Elsewhere, though, The Black Crowes pushes itself outside its comfort zone. On What Is Home?, the band dabbles in the hazy, roots-oriented reflections of Crosby, Stills and Nash. And the Band Played On... is bathed in Beatle-esque flavors, and The Last Place that Love Lives finds the outfit wandering onto the dusty terrain of Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska. Still, the finest track on Before the Frost... is Been a Long Time (Waiting on Love). Here, The Black Crowes follows its tried-and-true formula by smashing swampy, CCR-inspired fare into a swirling, Steppenwolf-style jam.
There is no doubt that Before the Frost... is a surprisingly solid outing. The key to its success resides with the facts that not only have none of its tracks been forced into place but also that the sonic diversity pursued by The Black Crowes yielded a suite of songs that never feel redundant. Instead of chasing its art, the members of the ensemble allowed the music to come to them. There is a renewed sense of urgency and determination about the endeavor, and in the end, this gives The Black Crowes plenty of room to break from its longstanding, Almost Famous-like state of being to become something greater. ½
Of Further Interest...
Before the Frost... is available
from Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2009 The Music Box