Black Crowes double feature! Check out Deke‘s review of The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion by clicking here!
On their first album, the Crowes were old time soulful rock and roll saviours. They were a retro treat, an antidote to the Poisons and Bon Jovis and Warrants. By their second album, the Crowes became artists. Fraught with tension, ther brothers Robinson battled over creative direction. Songs were recorded, re-recorded, dropped, replaced. But it all happened very quickly. The songs were written in a matter of weeks, and the album was recorded in a matter of days, according to Chris Robinson.
There was also a lineup change. Guitarist Jeff Cease (who didn’t play much on the first album anyway) was out and Marc Ford from Burning Tree was in. Perhaps most importantly, the Crowes added a full-time keyboard player. Canadian-born Eddie Harsch (R.I.P.) fit like a glove and became a fan favourite relatively quickly. Unusually, Harsch isn’t on the front cover though he’s on the back and inside of The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion.
Get stung! “Sting Me” is one of the songs the brothers fought over. One liked the fast one that opens Southern Harmony. One preferred the original slow version that’s included as a bonus track. The fast version won out and you will get why. It’s hyper-fast, but with the southern flavour added in shots. Backup singers Barbara and Joy are all over the album, including “Sting Me”, putting a soulful spin on everything.
Can I have some “Remedy”? Track two was a #1 hit for a stunning 11 weeks. A slick groove and funky electric piano make this one a blues rocker for the ages. In one track, the Crowes stepped away from their previous derivative sound, and hit the warp drive. It’s such tremendous leap in terms of growth. Barbara and Joy have the chorus covered while Chris scats his way into the charts.
The acoustic side of the Crowes comes out on “Thorn in My Pride”, which also points the way forward to 1994’s Amorica. Congas and organ add a slightly psychedelic slant, but the song also gives way to an electric jam. Another single and another hit for the Black Crowes. Going further into electric blues, “Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye” is raw and exposed. The band and producer George Drakoulias captured a warm and bare sound, and no track shows it off better. You can hear the hum of hot amplifiers. And those amps get cranked up on “Sometimes Salvation”. Heavy blues, emphasis on groove. Drummer Steve Gorman has long been this band’s secret weapon.
Side two is cranked immediately on the rock and roll “Hotel Illness”. Guitars crash and slide, it’s a harmonica blowin’ good time. Southern Harmony takes a few listens to fully penetrate but a track like “Hotel Illness” takes no time at all. Then the black moon starts-a-creepin’. There’s a dark swampy vibe to “Black Moon Creeping”, but heavy with growling guitar explorations. “No Speak No Slave” crawls up next, bustin’ down the doors with some sweet guitar harmonies. For songs like “No Speak No Slave”, guitar players have admired this album for a long time. Then it’s on to “My Morning Song” which returns the emphasis to some soul singin’.
An acoustic cover of Bob Marley’s “Time Will Tell” sounds like a jam, but those things are often the magical moments. That’s what “Time Will Tell” is, a magical moment. It’s a snapshot of a group of musicians just singing and playing with their hearts.
As with the other Crowes remasters from the 1998 reissues, Southern Harmony has bonus stuff. All four have a sticker inside with an ad for the forthcoming Crowes album By Your Side on the back. There are two music videos, a screensaver, and a “link to the Black Crowes’ website!” More importantly there are two bonus tracks. The aforementioned “slow” version of “Sting Me” is interesting but the fast version sets it apart but the other mid-tempo material on the album. Another fast tune, “99 lbs” is an instantly likeable blues cover, more straightforward than the album itself. It’s more like Shake Your Money Maker Crowes. Great tune for a bonus track.
If you’re familiar with this album, you may agree. If you’re not, you probably know this album for its reputation. Southern Harmony and the Musical Companion is an essential album for any rock collector with integrity. They don’t come more authentic or proudly individual than this. Get some.