How many times have you bought Shake Your Money Maker (31 years old but not a day over 20)? This time the Crowes did it (mostly) right. The last time they reissued this album in 1998, they added only two bonus tracks. Now there are 25. These include a whole disc of rarities called More Money Maker, and a homecoming live set from December 1990 with the original lineup and a sneak peak at new, work-in-progress songs. All of this is worth your money to buy one more time. Especially for the songs they were already road-testing.
Freshly remastered and sounding good. Opening up with a rip of slide guitar, the Crowes made their southern bluesy roots known from the get go. It was nothing like Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, or anybody else on the radio at the time, except maybe the London Quireboys. They drew influence from the 70s: Bands like the Stones and Skynyrd, as well as the old Mississippi Delta bluesmen. Listen to Rich Robinson’s slide and dig in. Chris Robinson’s bluesy drawl delivers a hell of a chorus. “Twice As Hard” is perfect in every measure, and producer George Drakoulias captured it without messing with it.
Second in line is the debut single “Jealous Again”. It sounds like the offspring of the Stones at their boogie-woogie best. The noticable difference is the big drum sound wielded by Steve Gorman, the Crowes’ secret weapon.
Shake Your Money Maker is a well rounded album with a few piano based slow tracks. The first ballad is “Sister Luck”, sort of prototype for the kind of things the Crowes would do in the future. You want authenticity? That’s Chuck Leavell on keys.
Back to the rock, “Could I’ve Been So Blind” kicks it with a shot in the arm and a great chorus. Thing go slow again on the organ-based blues “Seeing Things”. The wild thing is, the Crowes were just kids, but it sounds like they have years and years of pain to pour into these songs.
One of the most well known singles from Shake Your Money Maker was the old Otis Redding cover “Hard to Handle”. A bit of a surprise to hear an Otis song on the radio, but we gladly took it. The Robinson swagger on this one is enormous. Back to rock, “Thick N’ Thin” begins with a car crash. Fast paced rock and roll with boogie woogie piano gets the feet moving, like the Faces on adrenaline.
One of the fastest songs gives way to the slowest one. “She Talks to Angels” is the only one that technially 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, with the feel still coming through.
Moving in for the close, “Struttin’ Blues” is relatively nondescript compared to some of the prior ass-kickers. They save the 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.
This isn’t all the B-sides of course; the Crowes issued plenty of live tracks that you will have to track down the singles for. This does collect the studio music that made it onto B-sides and bonus tracks, as well as far more serious rarities. One of those is “Charming Mess”, a slamming unreleased track that easily could have been a hit. Slippery guitars, bouncing piano, and a wicked chorus. Early Crowes tended to keep things simple, and this a great example of their early charm, cranked up to 10.
The Humble Pie cover “30 Days in the Hole” is tight and clean. Johnny Colt was an underrated bass player and you can hear it on this decent but underwhelming cover. The original “Don’t Wake Me” is an also-ran, in the fast-paced category. Great guitar work as always though, so always something to listen for. The Lennon cover “Jealous Guy” always lacked something that the original had, but by turning it into a lamenting blues, the Crowes made it their own more than the other covers. The original “Waitin’ Guilty” is a real treat. Happier with twang, it was rarely played live, perhaps because it’s a bit of a departure. A sweet, tasty, twangy departure.
The “Horn Mix” of “Hard To Handle” has been difficult to track down for years. Here it finally is! One thing not apparent when listening to it on a shitty radio — the bass really thumps on this remix. With this version now finally widely available, it is the definitive mix. Two acoustic versions of big hits are next: “Jealous Again” and “She Talks to Angels”. Stripped down to the very basics with no drums. “She Talks to Angels” benefits very much from the bare arrangement, becoming something truly special.
This disc ends on a double treat: Two early demos by Mr. Crowe’s Garden, the incarnation that preceded the Black Crowes. “She Talks to Angels” is fully written but with a higher lead vocal melody. “Front Porch Sermon” is more folksy than what we usually expect from the Crowes, at least until the later years. Banjo is the dominant instrument. The chorus is a dead ringer for Blue Rodeo. Great stuff; let’s hope we get more Mr. Crowe’s Garden demos in the future.
For many, this is the main feature of the set, and for good reason. This era of the Crowes only lasted a short time and change is already evident. The new material they were working on, and were already playing live, was different. The band was also changing and soon guitarist Jeff Cease would be out of the lineup, replaced by Marc Ford. This concert CD is one of our few chances to hear what Jeff Cease brought to the band. They couldn’t have grown where they did with Cease, but as the lead guitarist on these rock and roll tracks, he’s perfect.
Chris Robinson is on fire, as evident on the stormin’ first song, “Thick N’ Thin”. It’s an energetic version and that energy carries over into a new song called “You’re Wrong”. It would later evolve into “Sting Me”. The sound of Southern Harmony was starting to creep in and you get a lot more a bit later into the set. Although nobody sounds bored, the Crowes roll out the hit “Twice as Hard” next. It could be one of the best versions out there, for Chris’ impassioned overblown vocal.
Favourites from the album are played one after the other: “Could I’ve Been So Blind”, “Seeing Things”, “She Talks to Angels”, “Sister Luck”, and “Hard to Handle”. Particularly powerful is “Seeing Things” though highlights are plenty through these tunes. The Crowes also peppered their sets with non-album covers. “Shake ‘Em On Down” (Bukka White) is unexpectedly followed by “Get Back” (The Beatles). But really it’s just one extended jam on some familiar themes.
The real treat is a full 13 minute version of “Words You Throw Away”, the long jam that would one day evolve into a little hit called “Remedy”. You can hear certain chords and rhythmic ideas that ended up in “Remedy”, and maybe also “Thorn in My Pride”. It is however its own song, with some unbelievable hooks of its own that never made it into anything else. Just lay back and enjoy all 13 minutes of musical nirvana.
Closing the set with “Stare It Cold” and “Jealous Again” can only be anticlimax after that workout. What else could they do?
It’s very fortunate this live set was so well recorded, mixed and mastered for release.
Though affordable, the 3 CD edition has skimpy packaging. There is a small foldout with rare photos (and some really cool ones of Mr. Crowe’s Garden) but no real liner notes or other details. It would just be nice to know more about where the rare tracks originated, or even the original studio album itself. The album used to come with lyrics, but this comes with nothing.
Still the music more than makes up for up for the lack of packaging. The top-notch live set is a revelation, and the bonus rarities are valuable and high quality. You can’t say no to the music.