CRY OF LOVE – Brother (1993 Sony)
He wasn’t in the Black Crowes for their heyday, but fans unfamiliar with Cry of Love may remember Audley Freed as the Crowes’ second guitar player, from By Your Side to their first breakup. Upon hearing this CD, his debut album with Cry Of Love, you will understand why the Crowes tapped him to replace Marc Ford. I loved this album so much that I place it on my “Most Unrightfully Ignored Albums of the 1990s” list, with the comment that “Audley Freed plays his Fenders like bluesy butter.”
In 1993, I fully hoped and partly expected Cry of Love and Brother Cane to end the domination of grunge rock, hand in hand!
Cry Of Love not only had the awesome, tubey guitar sounds of Freed but also (for this album, anyway) an excellent little known singer named Kelly Holland. Sounding like a cross between Chris Robinson and Joe Lynn Turner, Holland had pipes to spare and knew how to use them with soul. What a powerful throat. At the time I used to say, “If only I could sing like Kelly Holland or Joe Lynn Turner!” I only discovered while writing this review that Holland died last year at age 52. Hard living and alcohol took their toll on a singer who never achieved the fame that he had potential for.
Hopefully Mr. Holland was very proud of the one album he made with the band. Every track on this album is a live-sounding standout, with very few audible overdubs. Production by John Custer (Corrosion of Conformity from their hometime of Raleigh, North Carolina) is spot on. With a bluesy band like this, you want clear and crisp, yet with the illusion of a live rehearsal. The album delivers on that, with the power one expects from a modern recording. The guitar tones in particular are stunning. With a chilly, round, and natural sound, Freed proved that in the 90’s you didn’t have to downtune.
There are a lot of favourites on Brother. The first single “Peace Pipe” was killer. I can’t get enough of that bopping bass line and irresistible chorus. The second single “Bad Thing” wasn’t bad either, but the opener “Highway Jones” was really awesome. It has a blurringly fast blues riff that just stuns. On the mellow side of the blues, there is the soulful (and mournful) “Carnival”. Excellent lyrics on that one too. I saw them perform it acoustically on MuchMusic in the 1990’s. Still have that on VHS tape, too. Then there’s “Too Cold In The Winter”, which makes use of Freed’s chilly tone to full effect. You will have your own favourites, but I think “Peace Pipe” will grab you no matter who you are.
After this album, Holland departed to be replaced by Robert Mason (Lynch Mob, currently in Warrant) on the second album, Diamonds and Debris, which destroyed half of what made this band unique. While they still had Freed, it’s just rare to hear a singer of Holland’s caliber, and Mason is just a tad generic. At least at that phase of his career. That album isn’t nearly as memorable as Brother.
So: Brother, an excellent lost gem of an album, may be relegated to the footnotes of the Black Crowes’ biography. It’s a shame, because I think it’s up there with some of the best albums the Crowes have never done. Of note: I also own two CD singles, for “Bad Thing” and “Peace Pipe”, which also had two non-album studio tracks on it. Those, and some live cuts on “Bad Thing” are worth checking out if you crave more of the original Cry of Love. I’ll review those another day. Rest in Peace Kelly Holland.