Is rock ‘n’ roll making a comeback?
Everywhere I look and listen these days I am pleasantly surprised to hear the comforting sound of guitars, drums, bass and vocals. Just yesterday I dropped by the local HMV and was startled to hear the opening reverb of Day Tripper ripping through the speakers. Fully expecting to hear something by Whitney Houston or The Jonas Brothers in the suburban mall record store, the warmth of George Harrison’s lead guitar matched up perfectly against Paul McCartney’s thumping bass line was a reminder of how relevant and timeless the music, when played right, can be.
The reason for my HMV trip was to pick up Before The Frost…, the latest studio offering by Atlanta, Georgia’s The Black Crowes. For close to twenty years, The Crowes have been mixing-up their brand of Southern hard rock by incorporating ingredients from influences like the Allman Brothers, The Faces, The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin.
While Before The Frost…isn’t as remarkable as the band’s best work in the early-1990’s on The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion (1992) and Amorica (1994), and is unlikely to deliver the commercial success of their debut album, Shake Your Money Maker (1990), which spawned the top-30 singles Hard To Handle and She Talks To Angels, the album definitely rocks and is a nice return to form following the disjointed effort of Warpaint from last year.
If nothing else, Before The Frost…finds The Black Crowes’ playing tighter than ever. In fact, they are so tight they decided to record the entire album live at Levon Helm Studios in Woodstock, New York in front of an intimate, live audience. What makes this even more remarkable is that none of the tracks on the album had ever been played live prior to these recordings – an impressive feat in itself.
The album also includes a special gift for fans in the form of a second, and perhaps better, downloadable second album titled, …Until The Freeze.
Put them together and Before The Frost…Until The Freeze is an ambitious project that stretches The Black Crowes well beyond their blues-inspired blend of Southern Rock. The 20-track collection can best be described as a Roots Rock record intermingling blues, country, jazz, folk, rock ‘n’ roll, bluegrass, mountain music, R&B and even disco in a way that hasn’t been done this well since The Band and Levon Helm himself concocted their own stew of Americana music.
It’s probably not a coincidence that The Crowes chose to record at Helm’s studio to help capture the sound and vibe of The Band’s Music From Big Pink debut. For much of the album, the listener feels like you have walked in on a band rehearsal or perhaps even stumbled upon a front-porch jam session. Having seen The Crowes live a few times since their 2005 reunion and listened to a number of live bootlegs over the years, Before The Frost…Until The Freeze does a great job of capturing the loose and eclectic nature of the band’s live shows.
Also refreshing is the fact that Before The Frost…Until The Freeze actually feels like a group effort, and not just a Chris/Rich Robinson production. By playing together and recording live, there will be no debate about how many of the guitar parts were overdubbed by Rich and how much the other members contributed to the recording as has been the case with the last few offerings.
Standout tracks include Before The Frost…opener Good Morning Captain which borrows it’s piano riff and overall groove from the Joe Cocker track Space Captain that The Crowes have covered regularly over the years. The track I Ain’t Hiding is also bound to create turn some heads amongst fans with its four-on-the-floor disco-inspired beat and New York drug-culture lyrics.
On …Until The Freeze the band eases in to a collection of Dixieland inspired acoustic tracks that shimmy and sway like a Georgia breeze. On Shady Grove The Crowes sound like Little Feat as Chris Robinson implores everyone to ‘Let it Ring…A Song For Everyone To Sing’, and they all happily comply.
It’s been a long time since I’ve looked forward to as many new album releases at one given time. So with The Black Crowes taking us on a journey of American Roots Rock with Before The Frost…Until The Freeze, what else is there to look forward to “Before The Snow?” With the likes of Pearl Jam, KISS, Alice in Chains, Bon Jovi, Weezer and newly formed supergroup Them Crooked Vultures all releasing new music in the coming weeks, it appears that there is a plentiful fall harvest ahead for fans of rock ‘n’ roll music.