Honky soul mixed with heavy R&B is a diet that I simply can’t resist when cooked well. I wouldn’t have blinked twice some 15 years ago if confronted with a new Black Crowes album. Frontman Chris Robinson, guitarman Rich Robinson and their band of shake their moneymakers were, after all, the Michelin star chefs of this heavy bootstomping, thin-ass-wiggling Southern concoction.
But like far too many bands that have lasted more than one appearance on the MTV Music Awards night stage — and the Black Crowes have been making records since 1990 (Shake Your Money Maker that bristles with shamanic gems like ‘Jealous again’, ‘Sister luck’ and a railroad-breaking cover of Otis Redding’s ‘Hard to handle’) — this band from Atlanta, too, had its rendezvous with dud albums. So understandably, I was worried that the new Black Crowes album, Before the Frost... would
jeopardise the nice relationship I had with the band’s music. I needn’t have worried at all.
The curtains open with ‘Good morning captain’ and you know that we’re back where the Crowes and we belong — a bar with the piano pumping and the guitar-fuzz tasting so good. ‘I ain’t hiding’ is one swaggerful song that has even my docile furniture asking for some respect as Chris spits out: “Ain’t your saint ain’t your enemy/ I’m a long shadow on the highway/ I know this ain’t how it's supposed to be/ Baby I ain’t hiding.” Holy shades of the Stones’ Exile on Main Street there, especially with the hypnotic, repetitive end of ‘Feeeling high!’ to a great song.
The 70s Southern rock sound rushes back into the room as ‘A train still makes a lonely sound’ comes out of the platform. The guitar strings bend in ‘Been a long time (waiting on love)’, and Chris does that mini-lag behind the music so well that at least I’m willing to forget and forgive the Black Crowes for producing creations like Lions (2001) and Warpaint (2008).
What makes Before the Frost... downright irresistable is that the band hasn’t strayed from their strengths but have actually added new arsenal to their sound. I could have been sitting and listening to their album that should have come out after the 1994 Amorica (whose cover of an American flag bikini bottom, complete with a few strands of pubic hair peeking out remains a prized possession in my ‘old cassette garden’.
Playing Keith Richards to Chris Robinson’s shaggy Jagger, guitarist-brother Rich comes out for the first time and sings into the microphone in What is home. The result is a joyful, lifting song tasting of a peanut butter downed with bourbon after a long decade of being lost.
The album’s high points — and for me, the chugga-chugga of the fifth track, ‘I ain’t hiding’ certainly contains the climax — are physically palpable. The bones-shaking music that’s been a Black Crowes trademark, a coupling of the Southern sound of Lynyrd Skynryrd with the gritty hormonal chaos of the early 70s Rolling Stones, moves up by a couple of notches in Before the Frost...
Just one serious advice. Play this loud and play it to have the music bounce and ricochet off your walls. You’ll feel the indoors storm.