the black crowes

#719: Mystery Disc

GETTING MORE TALE #719: Mystery Disc

Cleaning out Jen’s mom’s house after she passed away was very emotional work.  Nobody’s been living there since July.  One day she got up and broke her hip.  We didn’t know it yet but the cancer was in her bones.  She never came home again.  When we started working on the house in September, everything was more or less how she left it.

Her music collection was small with a few gems.  One disc that I kept was Cat Stevens’ Icon.  I had to take it for “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out.”  As told in Getting More Tale #702, that song seemed to make a connection with me when she was sick.  One day we went to see her in the hospital, and she was unconscious.  No longer able to communicate.  That song was stuck in my head for reasons I can’t explain.  I like to think she was sending me a message.  Not to be sad.  It would have been like her to say that to me.  I get tears in my eyes thinking about her lying there dying, and that song playing on repeat in my head.  I had the song played at her funeral.  It just seemed like such a “mum” song, even though I have no memories of us ever listening to it together.  When I found out that she actually owned that song, I got the chills again.  Finding Cat Stevens made my heart swell.

We also found a number of CD-Rs that I made, but had no labels or covers.  For today’s chapter I’m focusing on one specifically.  I can’t figure out why I made it, or who I made it for, or what it was doing at Jen’s mom’s house!

It is a lightscribe CD, and burned into the top is the old background from my website.  It’s a photo of some model guitars and guitar picks.  The 15 song track listing is most bizarre and I can’t figure out what I was doing!

Track 1:  Craig Fee saying “LeBraaaain”.  This dates the CD to 2012 at the earliest.  I liked to introduce my CDs with something amusing, so this works.

Tracks 2-4:  “Whiskey in the Jar”.  The first is Metallica’s studio cover from Garage Inc.  The second is Thin Lizzy’s take from 1972.  Last is a live Metallica version, possibly from the CD single.  That’s a lot of whiskey – 15 solid minutes worth.  Listening back, the Metallica live version absolutely kills their studio cut.  Yeah-hah!

Track 5:  Steve Earle – “Home to Houston”.  This track is from Steve’s political 2004 album The Revolution Starts Now.  I haven’t played that album in years and I don’t remember this song.  Why it stuck out enough to put it on this mystery disc, I haven’t a clue.  Good tune, but I don’t know it anymore!

Track 6:  Jeff Bridges & Colin Ferrel – “Fallin’ & Flyin'” from the 2010 soundtrack Crazy Heart.  Now, memories are starting to form.  I can remember driving around with Jen and her mom, listening to this song in my car.  Did I make this CD for her mom?  If so, why the Metallica?

Track 7:  Johnny Cash – “The Man Comes Around”.  One of the greatest Cash songs, from the best American album in my opinion.  Goosebumps, still to this day.  Jen and I love Cash and had him played at our wedding.

Track 8:  Me doing a song intro!  The backing track sounds like Motorhead’s acoustic version of “Ace of Spades” with the main lick looped and no vocals.  I made this for a past Sausagefest countdown!  The track I’m introducing:  “Renegade” by Styx!  I mention that it was covered by Daughtry and then add sound effects of Nicko McBrain burping and farting.  I have to admit it’s a pretty great (and funny) intro!  It was #30 on the 2013 countdown.  From that I can now assume I made this CD the same year.  Which is strange because I wasn’t really making mix CDs anymore in 2013.

Track 9 is a personal favourite, “Rock An’ Roll Angels” from Whitesnake’s 1982 album Saints & Sinners.  I’ve always been into rock and roll songs with boogie woogie piano. I have loved this song for three decades.  Then Track 10, another Whitesnake classic:  “Slow An’ Easy” from the landmark classic Slide It In.  That’s another personal fave, because of the slide riff.  It’s incredible and I spent many hours as a teenager playing air slide to it.  Not to mention air drums!  Cozy Powell was so fucking cool.

Then more slide!  Track 11:  The Black Crowes – “Twice as Hard”.  I was clearly trying to make the CD flow.  Indeed I used to spend hours shuffling track order until I had it “just right”.  With all this slide business going on, I wonder if the next song is going to be some “Travelling Riverside Blues”?

Nope!  A total surprise to me, Track 12 is The Tragically Hip!  “50 Mission Cap” is Jen’s favourite, for reasons you’ll understand.

Bill Barilko disappeared that summer,
He was on a fishing trip.
The last goal he ever scored,
Won the Leafs the cup.
They didn’t win another till nineteen sixty two,
The year he was discovered.
I stole this from a hockey card,
I keep tucked up under.

I think the lyrics are brilliant because they tell two stories at once.  First, they tell the true tale of Toronto Maple Leaf Bill Barilko, who tragically died in a plane crash in a remote part of Quebec.  Nobody knew what happened to him until his body was found 11 years later.  The second tale is that of a young Gord Downie who read about it on the back of a hockey card.

Track 13 is another surprise:  “The Boys are Back in Town” by Bon Jovi!  Don’t scoff, this is actually a really good Thin Lizzy cover from their New Jersey period.  Lyrically, Jon and Phil Lynott were on similar wavelengths.  This is exactly the kind of tune that Jon was writing.  “Wild in the Streets” is Bon Jovi trying to re-write “The Boys are Back in Town”.

Track 14:  “Big Foot” from Chickenfoot III.  Gotta be one of my favourite car tunes.  “Got Houses Of The Holy on the box, got it all cranked up cause, yeah! That shit rocks!”  What a groove — you can’t help but stomp along.  Joe Satriani has a way with a riff.

I had a guess that Track 15 was going to be all of side one of 2112.  The track time was over 20 minutes, so I had an inkling it was either that or side two of Abbey Road.  I’ve ended mix CDs with 20 minute epics before, and I think it works.  The Beatles did it!  Granted, the 2112 epic was a side one, but it still functions perfectly in the closing position.  Try it yourself!

Listening to this mystery disc has been enjoyable, but my reasoning still escapes me.  It’s such a bizarre mix, with the front loaded threesome of “Whiskey in the Jar”.  From there it starts to make a little more sense.  But how it did it end up at “mum’s” house?

My best theory is that I made it as a gift for Jen’s Uncle Rick, and it never got mailed.  He lived in Texas at the time — maybe that’s why I included “Home to Houston”.  Rick is also a Whitesnake fan, and a Toronto Maple Leafs fan.  I’m just not sure.

How would you rate this mix CD if you were the recipient?  I think I’d give it a solid:

4/5 stars

 

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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: Rich Robinson – Got to Get Better in a Little While (10″ EP)

RICH ROBINSON – Got to Get Better in a Little While (2016 Universal 10″ clear single for Record Store Day)

This really pretty record (a single or an EP, who cares?) was found on the Taranna 2016 expedition with Mr. Books.  It’s apparently a Record Store Day exclusive from April 2016, although I had no problem getting this one for $16.99 in October.  This my first purchase of anything by Rich without his brother Chris.  Knowing the Black Crowes, I was fairly certain it wouldn’t suck.  I was still surprise to see on the back, an ad for not one not two not three but FOUR Rich Robinson “Expanded Editions” on CD and LP!  Who knew?  Not this guy!

“Got to Get Better in a Little While” is a Derek and the Dominoes cover, apparently one that Crowes used to do regularly, as does Rich.  You have to hear this if you like bluesy rock that produces pure smoke from sheer musical chemistry.  Yes, Clapton is God and the original can’t be touched, but a real jackass could easily make this song sound like shit.  Rich does the opposite, and it sounds as part of his musical being.  There’s some deep bass that just cuts through, and this goes on for eight and a half minutes of jam session heaven.  Just bop along.

The second side has two Rich originals.  Greasy late night blues is on the menu.  “Look Through My Window” sets a scene of steamy Tennessee dusk.  Brilliant stuff for any fan of slippery slidey guitars.  Then an acoustic/electric tune called “Falling Away” closes on a first light of a quiet dawn.  Great tunes, both, making up a tidy little 16 minute EP.  Or single.  Whatever!

The vinyl itself is clear and thick.  The package doesn’t say anything about clear vinyl, but you almost expect clear or coloured when you buy these limited editions.  It looks lovely spinning with its green label.  Great little EP, reasonably priced for the collector and fan.

4/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Jimmy Page & The Black Crowes – Live at Jones Beach (2017)

Gratitude to James Kalyn of the KMA for acquiring this treasure.

JIMMY PAGE & THE BLACK CROWES – Live at Jones Beach (2017 The Orchard Record Store Day EP)

Aficionados of Led Zeppelin and the Black Crowes rejoice! It has been a long time since the fantastic concert collaboration, Jimmy Page & The Black Crowes Live at the Greek (2000).  That double CD delivered a surprisingly bang-on dose of legendary Zeppelin cuts and blues covers.  Here, it’s a seven piece band consisting of Page, Rich Robinson and Audley Freed in a lethal triple guitar lineup.  The band was completed by vocalist Chris Robinson, drummer Steve Gorman, bassist Greg Rzab and keyboard player Eddie Harsch.  Now you can hear three more tracks, from an additional concert at Jones Beach.

As expected, Pagey and the Crowes are whipped up into a blues jam rock frenzy loaded with atomic playing.  Off to Middle Earth with “Misty Mountain Hop”, a song easily conquered by Chris Robinson.  You may be surprised by how comfortably it fits the Crowes.  “Bring it on Home” seems more their style, and with Jimmy they turn it into a loud rocking assault.  The three guitarists are really able to bring to life “In the Light”, giving it the kind of depth it has in the studio.  Chris and Rich double the vocals to emulate the production on the Physical Grafitti original.

4.5/5 stars

This was a 200 word review in the tradition of the #200wordchallenge.

 

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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#379: Aaron’s Black Crowes B-sides

THE BEST FUCKING COLLABORATION WEEK EVER

This series is “twice as hard”!  Aaron at the KMA and myself are both taking a look at an old CD-R of Black Crowes B-sides, that he made for me umpteen years ago.  Enjoy!

Aaron:  Black Crowes B-Sides

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RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#379: Aaron’s Black Crowes B-sides

Aaron has been a generous doner of Black Crowes music to Chez LeBrain for a long time now.  Witness, Record Store Tales Parts 260 and 262, in which he provided copies of the Crowes’ Sho’ Nuff box set, and the CD single for “Kicking My Heart Around”.  One of the most thoughtful items he ever gave me was a custom Crowes B-side CD, culled from his own library of tunes.  The Crowes have a lot of singles and rare tracks, and my collection is still to this day woefully incomplete.  The disc he made me covers a ton of songs that aren’t on albums.

There were quite a few tracks on this CD that I didn’t know the origin of.  I found out that the first three tracks are from the “By Your Side” CD single, which I still don’t own physically.  The opener, an acoustic version of “Horsehead” with a distorted lead vocal, is killer.  It sounds live in the studio, which to me is proof that you don’t have to spend weeks and months and years in the studio to make music.  “Horsehead” don’t need no frills.  “Grows A Rose” and “Peace Anyway” are from the same CD single, but sound more like the By Your Side album.  These are streamlined blues/rock tracks, but man “Grows A Rose” sure does smoke!  “Peace Anyway” is a soulful Crowes also-ran that could have been on the album as well.

“It Must Be Over” is from the “Kicking My Heart Around” single that Aaron gave me.  It’s a midtempo track much in the vein of the By Your Side album but not quite as catchy.  It’s a fine B-side though.  “You Don’t Have to Go” is really strong, but it could use more of that organ from Eddie Harsch.

Back to the olden days, “Don’t Wake Me” is an ass-kicker with plenty of that juicy slide guitar. This track was later reissued on the remastered Shake Your Money Maker album; I don’t know where it was originally from.  For fans of that old Crowes sound before they really started to experiment, this is for you.  The acoustic version of “She Talks to Angels” is available on the same remaster.  It sounds like an old Stones ballad and it’s flawless in this incarnation.

“99 lbs” and the slow version of “Sting Me” are also available today on the Crowes remasters.  I can’t believe how much “99 lbs.” kick ass for a B-side.  I know it’s a blues cover, but that’s about all I know about this amazing steady rocking tune.  Steady until the end that is, where it speeds up to a breakneck pace.  “Sting Me” is one of those tracks that caused a huge battle between the brothers.  One of them liked the slow version as heard on my Aaron Mix, and one preferred the fast album version.  This resulted in one of those physical confrontations that involved a mike stand being used as a projectile.  (I prefer the fast.)

As a B-side from Three Snakes and One Charm, “Just Say You’re Sorry” is surprisingly catchy and straitghforward.  I love Rich’s watery sounding guitar tone.  “Mellow Down Easy” is from the same period, this being a Willie Dixon classic.  I don’t think the Crowes really did anything for it.  Either way, it’s on the remastered Three Snakes, although “Just Say You’re Sorry” is not.

“Rainy Day Woman #12 & #35” is a bit of a gimmicky joke cover as far as I’m concerned.  It comes from a pot compilation of some kind.  “Pimper’s Paradise”, a Bob Marley cover, is a more successful experiment.

Aaron closed his CD with four live tracks in a row:  all four are from Air studios in London, circa 1994.  The four tracks sample the first three Crowes albums quite splendidly.  “Remedy” in particular strikes me as awesome.  The vocal is completely different from the album version which was only two years old.  You can’t say the Crowes are content to leave things be.

Man, you just gotta give Aaron a 5/5 for making this CD.  What a guy!

Monday: QUIET RIOT – Metal Health
Tuesday: DANKO JONES – Born A Lion

REVIEW: Cry of Love – Brother (1993)

CRY OF LOVE BROTHER_0002

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.

4/5 stars

Part 262: By Your Side

A sequel to Part 260: Sho’ Nuff – The Return of STATHAM

RECORD STORE TALES Part 262:  By Your Side

1999 was shaping up to be an exciting year.  The Black Crowes’ most recent disc, Three Snakes & One Charm, wasn’t bad but it didn’t excite me.  Rolling Stone magazine made negative comments about Chris Robinson’s beard as if the beard wrote the songs.  The rumour mill was going full speed, that the Crowes had returned to their “earlier” sound.  The new album, By Your Side, would be more like Shake Your Money Maker, and less like a bunch of bearded hippies jamming after a toke.  I know today the Crowes had recorded an album called Band (now available as CD 2 of The Lost Crowes), but it was rejected by American Recordings who wanted the band to make a basic rock n’ roll album, so they shaved off their beards and that’s what they did.

OK, sure, whatever – I was on board.  I don’t mind some changes to shake things up.  I don’t necessarily always endorse a full-on “return” to a sound, because you can’t really duplicate a specific era.  But this was the Crowes, a band who injected integrity into everything they’d done so far.

The first single released, “Kickin’ My Heart Around” was a frickin’ steamroller of a rock song.  It was released in November 1998, about two months before By Your Side was to come out.  It created a real buzz.  I was hearing excitement in the store from a lot of Crowes fans.  Naturally, the new Crowes album would be a subject for Statham and I to discuss, and discuss it we did.  Statham knew then that I collected Crowes B-sides, and “Kickin’ My Heart Around” had two that weren’t going to be on the album.

I’m not too sure about Chris’ Prince Valiant haircut

In late December, Statham strolled into my store with a surprise.  He had picked up for me my own copy of “Kickin’ My Heart Around” since I had been unable to locate one!  Best of all, it was a Christmas gift – the first gift that I was given by a customer at the record store that I can recall.  I was quite blown away.  I didn’t ask Statham to get the CD for me, and I certainly didn’t expect a gift from a customer!  But then again, as he has said in the past, he believes in treating his record store guys right.  That’s something I’ll never forget.

The two B-sides “It Must Be Over” and “You Don’t Have To Go” were both quality tunes on top of it all.  I was thrilled.  I brought the CD home and showed it to my dad.

“Get this, dad!” I began.  “One of my customers bought me this CD that I have been looking for!  It’s an early Christmas present!  Cool, huh?”

My dad, being the “negative Nancy” that he can be sometimes said, “I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to accept gifts from customers. What does he expect in return?”

“I don’t think he expects anything in return, dad.  It was just a thoughtful gift.  He’s a nice guy.”

“Well just be careful,” my dad cautioned.  “In my experience nothing’s free!”

I’m glad to say in this case, my dad was wrong.  Statham had no secret agenda, beyond friendship, and we’re still friends 15 years after that. If anything we’ve taken gifting music to each other to an extreme that we both enjoy.  The mutual benefits have been incalculable!  Thank you Statham for this CD, which I still treasure today.

REVIEW: The Black Crowes – Wiser For The Time (4 LP box set)

THE BLACK CROWES – Wiser For The Time (2013 4 LP box set, Silver Arrow/Megaforce Records)

I enjoy when bands do releases that are exclusive to certain formats.  In 2013 the Crowes put out this mammoth live album/box set, and let me tell you it’s gorgeous.  All it lacks is a booklet with pictures or liner notes.  I am otherwise completely thrilled with this release.  I’ve been on a Crowes kick these last few weeks, being drawn to the feel and impeccable musicianship of the band.  Wiser For The Time is largely acoustic, featuring mellow songs and arrangements spanning their entire career.  It also has plenty of electric rock, funk and blues.  It boasts 26 tracks and a running time of over 2 1/2 hours.  There was also a bonus 27th song given away for free last year, “Under A Mountain” taken from the same series of five New York concerts that comprise the album.

The Black Crowes pulled out all the stops.  From familiar hits such as “Jealous Again” to non-album obscurities like the scorching “Exit”, Wiser For The Time is treat after treat.  “Exit” in particular was a delicacy for me.  I had never heard the song before and was taken aback by its heavy groove.  And this is a song that has never been released on an album!?  Well, until now.  Even familiar songs like “No Speak No Slave” have new exciting moments, making the album a fresh listening experience.  Other songs like “Only Halfway to Everywhere” are extended to the 10 minute mark.

Covers?  Of the Crowes always surprise with interesting covers choices.  Here the biggest joy may be “Hot Burrito #1” and “Hot Burrito #2,” in sequence, by the Flying Burrito Brothers. That’s pretty hard core.  There were plenty of unfamiliar songs to me on Wiser For The Time.  Whether they are covers or Crowes obscurities I don’t know.  Regardless, I enjoy a good live album with unfamiliar material on it.  Who wants the same songs all the time?

SAM_0439Personal highlight:  “The Garden Gate” is my favourite song from 2009’s sprawling 2-LP Before the Frost…Until the Freeze.  I’m pleased that it made the album.  It’s every bit as good here as it was on Before the Frost.

But whether it’s the funky “Make Glad” or the extended jamming that makes up the end of “Tied Up and Swallowed”, there is not a dull moment on Wiser For The Time.  I solidly enjoyed the whole album.  I hope I can find the time to do so frequently in the future, but let’s be honest.  In our rat-race lives, few of us have the time to really spend time with an album anymore, particularly a 4 LP live box set.  And this isn’t a cheap set.  Sunrise had it for about $81, but Amazon were asking $73 with free shipping.  For those who can’t justify paying that much, iTunes have it too.  But these are beautiful 180 gram records, and iTunes can’t sell you the warmth that you will hear on a turntable.  Think wisely before buying.

4/5 stars

4 LP setIMG_00001630

  1. Cursed Diamond
  2. Sister Luck
  3. Smile
  4. Downtown Money Waster
  5. Hot Burrito #1
  6. Hot Burrito #2
  7. The Garden Gate
  8. Better When You’re Not Alone
  9. Darling Of The Underground Press
  10. Jealous Again
  11. Hotel Illness
  12. Thunderstorm
  13. Oh The Rain
  14. Soul Singing
  15. Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With YouIMG_00001632
  16. Exit
  17. No Speak No Slave
  18. Only Halfway To Everywhere
  19. A Conspiracy
  20. Title Song 
  21. My Morning Song/Stare It Cold
  22. Tied Up and Swallowed
  23. Make Glad
  24. Waiting Guilty
  25. She Talk To Angels
  26. Willin’

Free Download Bonus Track

  1. Under A Mountain