gospel

REVIEW: The Black Crowes – iTunes Originals (2008)

crowes-itunes-originalsTHE BLACK CROWES – iTunes Originals (2008)

If you ever spy these iTunes Originals sets from bands you like, then have a gander at the track list.  The Black Crowes’ edition contains original hits, but also has unreleased exclusive versions.  There is also a long interview session (spread through the set) with Chris and Rich Robinson, a good and revealing chat.  In total the set runs over an hour and a half.  Chris and Rich are vivid storytellers and the interviews are good enough to want to listen to more than once.  They surprisingly reveal that punk was a strong early influence.  Rich recalls seeing Corrosion of Conformity which opened up a new world for the brothers Robinson.  The punk shows gave the band a “try anything” attitude in concert, including playing brand new songs that they didn’t have words for yet.  But their influences also stretched deep into indi rock, folk, jazz and beyond.

“Twice As Hard” from the debut album is the first hit song presented, and damn if it isn’t still as fine as the day it dropped in 1990.  That simple classic British blues rock sound gave the Crowes the springboard they needed to drive them on to greater achievements.  It was different for the time.  Yet the ballad “She Talks to Angels” was really special and that’s here too.  With the interviews in between explaining the journey, iTunes Originals plays like an audio documentary.  The story and the music get more interesting as you go.  Each album brings something new to the table.  By Your Side was a “strange place”, says Chris, but its title track still rouses the senses.

It’s a light sprinkling of hits and album cuts moving forward through the discography of the Crowes. The main thing for long time fans is the exclusive material, all acoustic versions recorded by Rich and Chris. The Otis Redding cover “You Don’t Miss Your Water” is a song they’ve been singing together for years, but never recorded until now. What a lovely song, and what harmonies.  From Three Snakes and One Charm, “Good Friday” is rendered slower and sadder.  The stripped down approach of these acoustic recordings lends “Welcome to the Good Times” from By Your Side a new appeal.

The Crowes split up for a bit in the early 2000s, but you can’t keep the Robinson brothers apart for too long.  War Paint (2008) was their reunion as the Crowes.  With new and returning members, the band felt revitalized.  “Oh Josephine”, another acoustic exclusive, is as pretty as “She Talks to Angels” 18 years earlier.  The last of the exclusives is “Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution” which also closes the set.  Upbeat gospel rock and roll works as well electric as it does acoustic.  “Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution” was one of the finer moments on War Paint and it’s perfect for ending this iTunes Originals.

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: The Four Horsemen – Daylight Again (21st Anniversary Edition)

scan_20160919THE FOUR HORSEMEN – Daylight Again (2009 21st Anniversary Edition)

Haggis was itching to make some music again, but not with Frank C. Starr.  When the original Horsemen split in 1992, Haggis cut off contact with Starr, and the two never spoke again.  Instead Haggis hooked up with a singer and harmonica player named Tim Beattie, who did some mouth organ on “Homesick Blues” from the first LP.  Tim could sing too, with a slight southern drawl as a contrast to Starr’s AC/DC shred.  Guitarist Dave Lizmi and bassist Ben Pape were not interested in rejoining the band, so Haggis brought in two new members:  Rick McGhee handled the guitar leads, and Duane D. Young held down the bottom end.  Dimwit Montgomery flew down from Canada to complete the lineup.

It wasn’t to last long.  Even without the explosive Starr, the volatile band began to melt down shortly after writing a batch of new, soulful rock tunes.  Rick McGhee quit.  Dimwit too; Les Warner ex-of The Cult came down to record the drums.  Even Dave Lizmi came back briefly, but left after recording an album’s worth of demos.  Lizmi was replaced by a new guitarist named Mike Valentine before it all hit the wall again.

The album that became Daylight Again was recorded in 1994 (with Lizmi) and shelved.  According to Haggis, the fate of the band was “an inevitable outcome.  We had evolved to the point of being unrecognizable from the group that had been signed five years previously.  We started out as card-carrying members of the Bon Scott fan club, and ended up sounding like the house band at an Arkansas chicken ranch.”  The label lost patience and dropped them.  Haggis quit music completely, while up in Toronto, Lizmi decided to give the Horsemen one more try….

Daylight Again wasn’t intended for release as-is.  These are cassette and DAT recordings, cleaned up as much as possible for CD.  Hiss and noise are part of the deal, so buyer beware, this is not the gloss of a Rick Rubin production.  You can taste the rawness; not even blue-rare, just pure raw blues unfettered by mixing consoles.  The sound is modified by banjos and pedal steel.  The location is somewhere in the deep south.  You can feel the humidity in the rehearsal space and sense the hot tube amps humming away.  Somewhere in between the Allmans and Skynyrd, the Horsemen found some inspiration from old grooves.

You can even find a little funk (“Trailer Park Boogie”) among the blues, soul, folk and rock influences.   These traditions are given a boost with a touch of gospel.  Nowhere is this more obvious than the closer, an 11 minute jam on “Amazing Grace”.   Each Horsemen album ended with a long, emotional song of epic quality.  It was “I Need a Thrill/Somethin’ Good” on the first LP, and “What the Hell Went Wrong” on Gettin’ Pretty Good…at Barely Gettin’ By.  “Amazing Grace” trumps both in the emotion and time categories.  It’s also Beattie’s best performance on the album.  The guitar melodies are just sublime.

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Daylight Again is an incredible, albeit unfinished album.  Some arrangements sound fluid and not quite there yet; it’s a flawed gem of a recording.  The thing about the blues is that it has a timeless quality.  You can’t nail this album down to a specific period because the blues are eternal.  Whether it’s Beattie blowing away on some harmonica jams, or Lizmi’s pure feel, there are loads of tradition to dig into on this album.

As discussed in a previous instalment of this series, Dave Lizmi formed a new Horsemen lineup himself shortly after the Haggis/Beattie version disintegrated for good. With Frank C. Starr back in the saddle, Lizmi’s Horsemen released the “official” second LP, Gettin’ Pretty Good…at Barely Gettin’ By.  However, Daylight Again pre-dates those recordings by almost two years and showcases a “lost” period in Horsemen history.   The 2009 reissue does a great service by finally bringing this lost LP to light.

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: The Black Crowes – Freak ‘N’ Roll…Into the Fog (2006)

The rather late first review from Toronto Record Store Excursion 2013!

 

CROWES FREAK ROLL_0002THE BLACK CROWES – Freak ‘n’ Roll…Into the Fog: All Join Hands, The Fillmore, San Francisco (2006 Eagle Records)

I somehow missed this when it first came out!  This double live album (acquired at Sonic Boom Music for the awesome price of $7.99), recorded in 2005, reunited the Robinson brothers with members from the classic era.  Returning are Marc Ford (guitar),  Ed Hawrysch (keyboards, from Toronto Ontario), Sven Pipien (bass) and original drummer Steve Gorham.  I believe the original bassist, Johnny Colt, was busy with Rock Star Supernova at the time…

Anyway, with a set concentrated on classic Crowes tunes from the earlier albums with a few other gems, this is an awesome collection.  There are a few later songs, such as a mind-blowing psychedelic version of “Soul Singing” (Lions).  Many of the songs, “Soul Singing” included, turn into long extended jams.  I wouldn’t call them meandering jams; they are spellbinding and with purpose at every moment.

The Crowes are backed by guests:  the Left Coast Horns and backup singers.  The horns kick ass on the extended “(Only) Halfway to Everywhere”.  They transform “Welcome to the Goodtimes” into something a little more sassy, likewise with “Let Me Share the Ride”, and “Seeing Things” from the first LP.  They also help stretch “Non Fiction” into 10 minutes of exploratory rock.  The backup singers really compliment “My Morning Song” transforming it into an ecstatic moment.

I have always taken a bit of flak from other Crowes fans over my favourite album.  Mine is Amorica, and most people I knew favoured Southern Harmony.  Regardless, it’s a delight to hear “Wiser Time” from Amorica on this album.  Songs like this are really special, and with most of the original players on it, “Wiser Time” shines.

I enjoy that the Crowes threw some rarities, covers and B-sides on Freak ‘n’ Roll.  “Sunday Night Buttermilk Waltz” and “Mellow Down Easy” are among the highlights of these tracks, but I was most excited about “The Night they Drove Ol’ Dixie Down”.  The original is a favourite of mine so I couldn’t wait to hear the Crowes’ interpretation.  And guess what?  It’s awesome.  It would be ludicrous to compare it to the original by The Band.  All that matters is that the Crowes wring more soul out of the song than you’ll hear in modern rock on any given day.

The Walmart version of the CD came with a download code for a bonus track, the Stones’ “Loving Cup”.  I obtained it via the seedy underbelly of the internets.  On the DVD this was played after “Welcome to the Goodtimes”.  I’m glad to have this song because the horns really fatten it up nicely, and it’s also a great tune!

5/5 stars

Record Store Excursion 2013!

PART 1

PART 2