Johnny Colt

REVIEW: The Black Crowes – The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion (remastered)

Black Crowes double feature! Check out Deke‘s review of The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion by clicking here!

THE BLACK CROWES – The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion (originally 1992, 1998 American remaster)

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.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: The Black Crowes – Shake Your Money Maker (remastered)

Black Crowes double feature! Check out Deke‘s review of Shake Your Money Maker by clicking here!

THE BLACK CROWES – Shake Your Money Maker (originally 1990, 1998 American remaster)

In 1990, just on the cusp of a musical revolution, a new band emerged from Georgia to challenge everything that was going on in rock and roll.  The biggest rock bands in the world had been playing around with the blues, but now there was a new band who lived and breathed it.  The Black Crowes were unlike all the other bands (except maybe the London Quireboys) and their debut album Shake Your Money Maker shook the money tree!

With George Drakoulias in the producer’s chair, the Crowes laid down one fine debut album.  They drew influence from the 70s:  Bands like the Stones and Skynyrd, as well as the old Mississippi Delta bluesmen.  The slide-drenched “Twice As Hard” certainly didn’t sound like a new band in 1990, but its honest authenticity has kept in a fan favourite for decades.  Listen to Rich Robinson’s slide and dig in.  Vocalist Chris Robinson’s bluesy drawl delivers a hell of a chorus.  “Twice As Hard” is perfect in every measure.

Rolling right into the first single “Jealous Again” the Crowes sound like the offspring of the Stones at their boogie-woogie best.  During the summer of 1990, you simply could not escape these songs.  Unlike many of their contemporaries they still stand tall.

The Stones had their “Angie”, the Crowes have their “Sister Luck”.  Shake Your Money Maker is a well rounded album with a few piano based slow tracks.  You want authenticity?  That’s Chuck Leavell on keys (he’s been playing with the Rolling Stones for decades).  Back to the rock, “Could I’ve Been So Blind” kicks it with a shot of caffeine and a great chorus.  Thing go slow again on the organ based blues “Seeing Things”.  The Crowes were just kids but it sounds like they have years and years of pain to pour into these songs.  “Seeing Things” is a tour de force!

One of the most well known singles from Shake Your Money Maker was the old Otis Redding cover “Hard to Handle”.  Bringing the boogie back, the Crowes had a huge hit with this cover.  It must be noted that there are two different versions of this track.  Radio stations were serviced with a very rare “horn mix” that brings in a brass section.  (This extremely rare promo CD is catalogue number PRO-CD-4896.)   The remix still gets occasional radio play.  Unfortunately the album only has the original mix.  (There were plenty of live and acoustic B-sides made for these singles too.)

“Thick N’ Thin” begins with a car crash, and this is one of the most energetic tracks in the Crowes catalog.  Like the Faces on adrenaline, “Thick N’ Thin” is a blast.  Fast paced rock and roll with boogie woogie piano gets the feet moving.  One of the fastest songs gives way to the slowest one.  “She Talks to Angels” is the only one that deserves the tag “ballad”.  Acoustics guitars, organ, and Chris’ plaintive voice took it to #1 on the US album rock charts.  It’s still just as stunning today.

Moving in for the close, “Struttin’ Blues” is relatively nondescript compared to some of the prior ass-kickers.  They save most kick-ass for last:  “Stare It Cold”.  It starts as a standard Stones-y rocker, but then it picks up speed right to the end, brilliantly ending the debut album on a hell of a good impression.

The 1998 remaster contains two bonus tracks and a few anachronisms:  music videos, a screen saver and “a link to the Crowes’ website!”  With the benefit of hindsight, we would have preferred more bonus tracks, but in 1998 this was cutting edge stuff.  The bonus cuts include “Don’t Wake Me”, a slide-drenched add-on.  As a song it’s not the most memorable, but that slide guitar is priceless.  The second is an “acoustic” version of “She Talks to Angels”.  The emphasis is on piano, and it sounds live in the studio.

Huge credit must go not only to the Black Crowes but also to producer Drakoulias.  His reputation speaks for itself but this album still sounds fantastic.  It does not sound like it was recorded in 1990.  The drums and all the other instruments are full and clear.  The brothers Robinson wrote all the original tunes, and as it turned out they were a classic batch.  Shake Your Money Maker is not original or innovative, but it is timeless.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Rock Star Supernova – Rock Star Supernova (2006)

ROCK STAR SUPERNOVA – Rock Star Supernova (2006 Epic)

It’s no wonder this band came and went, with Lukas Rossi now toiling in obscurity once again. Even Jason Newsted didn’t want to tour with this band. (Why would he, when he had better stuff going on like VoiVod? He was replaced by Black Crowes bassist Johnny Colt.) Tommy Lee and Gilby Clarke have stated that they really wanted to have two singers, Rossi and Dilana, but the TV execs wouldn’t allow it. That shows you how much integrity is contained herein. Even the name of this band sucks.

Butch Walker (ex-Southgang) created a faceless, generic, dull sounding record with all the modern bells and whistles that scream “ProTools”. He deserved plenty of the blame since he co-wrote all the songs but one. The drums barely sound like Tommy Lee; the band has no identity. There is not one bonafide great song on this CD. There are a couple decent moments on some of the rockers such as “It’s On!”, but this is 40 minutes you won’t get back.

One of the main issues with the album is Lukas Rossi himself, a generic singer with no real identity. He sounds like any number of glam rock vocalists with nothing unique or special. The other musicians are rendered faceless by a batch of songs that are too lame for most Motley Crue albums. But come on — if you have a TV series about finding your new singer, find somebody memorable, you know?

If you bought this, you simply supported the same-old-same-old, plastic, processed, fake, and commercial music that has been rammed down the throats of the world since the advent of reality TV. Really, this just gives rock a band name, because people see this and think it’s actually rock music. It’s not. This is prefab music designed to generate hype and sales. It’s also suspect when I read multiple drummers’ names in the credits.  Thankfully people saw through it and the sales tanked (except in Canada where Rossi is from).

Don’t spend a penny on this music. If you like these musicians and you want to hear them do something cool and different that you probably haven’t already heard on the radio, pick up the following:

Gilby Clarke — Pawnshop Guitars from 1994
Tommy Lee — Motley Crue’s self-titled 1994 release with John Corabi on vocals.
Jason Newsted –- the band Newsted

If you support Rock Star Supernova, you just twisted the knife a little bit deeper into the back of rock and roll.

1/5 stars, and one big stinky piece of cheese.

1. “It’s On”
2. “Leave the Lights On”
3. “Be Yourself (and 5 Other Cliches)”
4. “It’s All Love”
5. “Can’t Bring Myself to Light This Fuse”
6. “Underdog”
7. “Make No Mistake… This Is the Take”
8. “Headspin”
9. “Valentine”
10. “Social Disgrace”
11. “The Dead Parade”

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