Friday, December 31, 2010

Year End Review: The Black Crowes – Croweology

In August, The Black Crowes released their latest effort, Croweology. The Paul Stacey produced, double disc, acoustic work was released on the band’s own Silver Arrow label. Croweology commemorates the 20th anniversary of the band’s debut classic Shake Your Moneymaker reworking hits, fan favorites and other songs from their career.

When I first sat down to listen to the record, my first thought was, this is what the Crowes brief appearance on Unplugged back in the day should have sounded like. Then I listened again and thought, perhaps not. The Black Crowes that did that were wild, raw and hungry. There was a loose cannon edge to them. I wouldn’t trade that period in Crowes history for the world. Croweology is what years of seasoning and maturity sounds like. Does it make me feel like the guitar and vocals are going to take me over the edge into some unknown territory? No, it doesn’t. Twenty years ago, they made me feel as if they were saying “take my hand, the ride could get intense and scary but it’ll always be alright.” Twenty years later they make me feel like they’re saying “come by for Sunday dinner, we’ll eat and shoot the breeze.” That’s not saying it’s boring. That’s saying we’re grown up; we’re all twenty years older. This is us with lines around our eyes and twenty years of rock ‘n’ roll coursing through our veins. There’s a certain level of visiting an old friend type of comfort in listening to this record.

A friend of mine wasn’t so keen on getting this record because she’s a purist, and why mess with something that wasn’t broken. I think if it were any other band I’d probably feel the same way. But, one of the things I always loved about the Crowes was their desire and ability to change things up a bit live and that’s what this record feels like to me, an acoustic, structured, jam session. Yeah, I know, structured and jam session don’t belong in the same sentence!

Croweology brings back a lot of memories and I’ve enjoyed listening to it. Would I trade in the original versions of the songs for the versions on this collection? No. I might trade in a few of my well worn bootleg versions for these renditions … maybe. And, I have to say, I much prefer this type of “best of” instead of the traditional re-packaging of tracks that are nothing more than exactly what you already have only in a new package. I can do that myself on my music player, it’s called a playlist. So, kudos to the band on taking the mildly alternative route with their “best of” release.

As I played the disc, someone who had to endure endless plays of their albums and probably groaned every time I came back from the mailbox with an envelope of cassettes (they knew that envelope would contain several hours of live Crowes), came into the room. Their favorite Crowes song is “She Talks To Angels” so I skipped to that track. I asked what she thought and she replied “Chris sounds sane.” Huh? I was informed that there was a period where she thought he sounded substance aided lost and crazy. Okay. Vocally, Robinson sounds great on Croweology. To be honest, it might well be the best I’ve heard him, certainly in a good long time. He sounds less nasally, more controlled and there’s a maturity in his voice that’s comforting and warm. The Black Crowes have always been a top notch band. The rest of the band does some excellent work on this record and I’m not slighting them but Robinson’s vocals are the highlight here. The band has perfectly created a stage for Robinson to sparkle and shine.

While some may disagree, I think this is a fitting record to celebrate twenty years. Since the band is going on hiatus for an unspecified amount of time, I think it’s also a fitting way to say, “thanks and see you around” to their fans. Twenty years ago, I saw The Black Crowes, Chris, Rich, Steve, Johnny & Jeff for the first time and began my journey that while altered, has never ended. I’ve come full-circle now. Chris, Rich & Steve thank you for twenty years. To those who have come and gone and those of the current incarnation, thanks as well, you've helped make the journey a memorable one.

Croweology is a tidy package that brings things full-circle. And that my friends, is just what the quirky chick needed.

Track List

Disc 1
  • Jealous Again
  • Share The Ride
  • Remedy
  • Non-Fiction
  • Hotel Illness
  • Soul Singin'
  • Ballad In Urgency
  • Wiser Time
  • Cold Boy Smile
  • Under A Mountain
Disc 2
  • She Talks To Angels
  • Morning Song
  • Downtown Money Waster
  • Good Friday
  • Thorn In My Pride
  • Welcome To The Good Times
  • Girl From A Pawnshop
  • Sister Luck
  • She
  • Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye