Southern rock

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

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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: 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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Part 252: That Smell

RECORD STORE TALES Part 252:  That Smell

Working in a retail environment with the public exposes one to a variety of interesting smells.  90% of customers didn’t have a particular smell to them.  They were pretty inoffensive.  However, about 10% of customers did have distinct odors.  Here are the Top Five things that customers in my store smelled like:

4% – Weed

If I had to break it down, I would say the majority of customers that smelled like marijuana were shopping in the rap section.  The red bleary eyes were also a giveaway, but some of these kids just reeked of pot!  Didn’t matter if it was 10am and they were selling their CDs to buy another dime bag, or if it was 7pm and they were looking for fast food money.  They were omnipresent.

3% – Booze

I’m only hoping that the customers who had booze stench on their breath were not driving.  (At the end, I worked on the “wrong side of town,” many of my customers could not drive anyway.)  Never mind the fact that some people would be coming in piss drunk at noon on a Wednesday.

1% – B.O.

The dreaded body odor stink afflicted men and women alike.  The only thing they had in common: customers with B.O. were always oblivious to it themselves, even though my eyes were watering.  Many times these guys were construction workers on break, but not always!

1% – Really strong perfume or cologne

I had a few customers who were used car salesmen.  Apart from impeccably trimmed moustaches, they often wore too much Drakkar Noir.  There were also plenty of women that smelled so strong you couldn’t breathe.

1% – Bad breath

Halitosis isn’t fun.  Some of the people who knocked me out with their breath looked like their teeth weren’t doing so well either, particularly at the stores located on the wrong side of the tracks!

If you enjoyed this, perhaps you’ll enjoy Record Store Tales Part 57:  Top Five Things A Record Store Smells Like.

THAT SMELL

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

Part 224: Rockin’ Is Ma Business

For a closer look at the album itself, check out 1537’s cool writeup!

RECORD STORE TALES Part 224:  Rockin’ Is Ma Business

In 1995, this guy I knew named Freddy was looking for more new tunes.  He’d been playing all the Gary Moore and Stevie Ray Vaughn that I could get him, but he wanted some rock as well.  Something a little heavier.

“Have you heard of the Four Horsemen?” I asked.

“Nope,” he answered.  “Who’re the Four Horsemen?”

The Four Horsemen were a great band.  They had a solid AC/DC vibe mixed in with assloads of southern rock.  They were an odd mixture of personnel, with members from Wales, America and Canada.  They featured ex-members of DOA and The Cult (Haggis), along with a charismatic unknown singer from Long Island who went by the name of Frank C. Starr.  They were a volatile band and the original lineup imploded, but there were also rumours of a reunion and second album.  (Sadly, drummer Ken “Dimwit” Montgomery passed away, and after recording the second album, Frank Starr would be close behind.)  They did manage to crank out a solid debut, helmed by Rick Rubin, called Nobody Said It Was Easy.*

Freddy was sold without hearing a single song, after I described how strong the debut was.  We had it stocked new for the low, low price of $14.99.  Freddy made his purchase and headed out.I was confident he would be satisfied.

A week later, Freddy returned.  He had a bone to pick with me about Nobody Said It Was Easy.

“It was good music,” he said, “But not what I was looking for.  You said it was more like AC/DC.  This doesn’t sound anything like AC/DC.  It’s more country.  I don’t know why you said it sounded like AC/DC.”

I was really confused.  How could you miss those AC/DC-isms?  The rock solid beats, smoking guitars, and screamin’ lead vocalist?  What Freddy was saying didn’t make much sense.

We talked for a while trying to make sense of each others’ side of the story, getting nowhere, so I asked him to bring the CD back in.  He did, and I put it in the player.  Sure enough, Freddy was right — but on a CD clearly labelled The Four Horsemen was music by Dwight Yoakam!  The voice was unmistakable.

How could this happen?  It was rare, but not impossible, for a CD to be manufactured but then labelled and packaged as the wrong album.  Dwight Yoakam was on Reprise, and the Horsemen on Def American.  Both labels were subsidiaries of Warner Brothers.  Obviously the CDs were also manufactured in a Warner plant, for this mix-up to happen.

I insisted that Freddy return the CD so we could make it right, but he didn’t want to!  He liked the Dwight Yoakam album and wanted to keep it!  I ordered him a replacement copy of Nobody Said It Was Easy, and he liked that one too.

A lot of people were surprised that a CD could end up with the wrong music or artwork (however you want to look at it) printed on it.  It was rare, but it could happen and did.  Fortunately Freddy was happy with both records!


*The Four Horsemen finally reached a wider audience in 2012, in the movie GI Joe: Retaliation. From their second album, “Back In Business” is featured completely out of context during a frantic action sequence. The lyrics of the song are clearly about getting screwed over by record labels and passing trends in music.

Part 185: Staffing 2.0

A sequel of sorts to Part 92:  Staffing.

RECORD STORE TALES Part 185:  Staffing 2.0

It’s amazing sometimes how clueless people are, when it comes to looking for a job!  I’ve seen everything.  I’ve had people hand me resumes that were folded up into teeny tiny squares.  I’ve had kids apply that were so quiet, their moms had to do all the talking for them.  Friends, too.  Who am I hiring?  You, or your friend?

When we hired new people, we’d put ads on our website and do a cattle-call for applicants.  We did that in May 2004.  Here’s a memorable candidate:

Date: 2004/05/14
07:05

Tonight I have to work a little later than usual, til 6, to deal with all the incoming resumes. Here’s a hint to people who apply to jobs: If you drop off a resume, and then decide to shop in the store as a customer, don’t be an asshole with the staff. Don’t complain about store policies, don’t come in with a group of loud roudy friends, and don’t be a smartass. How can people be so stupid? Do you want a job, or not?

Needless to say, that guy did not get the job.  Instead we hired a guy named Kam.  Kam started about two weeks later:

Date: 2004/06/02
09:44

Today I start training new boy K. Should go well. [Name deleted] said she had good vibes about this kid. I sure hope she’s right because I don’t want to be overworked right now. K looks like Chad Kroeger, if Chad Kroeger cut off his hair, but that’s not K’s fault.

The good vibes about K were in fact correct.  He worked out great!  So great in fact that a few years later he served me by being a groomsman at my wedding!  Thanks, man.

NEXT TIME ON RECORD STORE TALES…

Who put these fingerprints on my Van Halen tin?