Monday, September 7, 2009

The Black Crowes - Before The Frost... [music review]

* Released in September
Before The Frost...
is technically the eighth studio album from The Black Crowes, a band that has put a decided emphasis on their live talents this decade, with four different live releases coming out since 2000. I say "technically" because the album was recorded in front of a small audience at the barn studio of Levon Helm (drummer from The Band) in upstate New York. But this isn't a live album per se. The songs are all brand new and there is virtually no between song banter from vocalist Chris Robinson, with only short snippets of applause from the audience at the end of the songs, which becomes a little distracting. It's an interesting experiment...how many times have you heard or read a music artist mention in an interview that they wanted to capture the energy of their live show and put it on a studio release? Well, the Crowes strive to do just that and there are moments where the album sizzles with life during extended jam sessions, but ultimately the album suffers from a lack of strong material.
Opener "Good Morning Captain" invites cause for optimism. The lively honky tonk piano and new guitarist Luther Dickinson's tasty slide solo demonstrate a tight live band demolishing a song equal to their talents. Second track "Been A Long Time (Waiting On Love)" drags for its first five minutes before kicking things up a notch (or three) as the tempo increases during a spirited jam. The pace slows down for the country-inflected balladry of "Appaloosa", accentuated with some excellent pedal steel guitar and the passing thought that a song like this is a hell of a lot more country than a lot of the material heard nowadays from acts who actually get labelled "country". Subsequent similar highlights are harder to come by unfortunately, with the rest of the album containing only one strong song, "I Ain't Hiding". Yes, it's a track that sticks in your head, but that it was chosen as the first single is a real oddity. It's not remotely representative of the overall sound of Before The Frost..., or really anything The Black Crowes have ever done before. Why? Well, it's pretty much straight-up disco. A well done disco song, mind you, with more great guitar work, but disco nonetheless. Immediate comparisons to the Rolling Stones' Black And Blue era spring to mind.
Chris Robinson's hippy dippy lyrics can also get a little wearisome. Here's a sample from "Been A Long Time (Waiting On Love)":
Earthbound wingless dream child born to necessity,
Tied to crimson velvet wings (she flies),
New moon midnight star, medicine is in the jar
Before The Frost... was released with a download code that gives fans free access to a companion album titled Until The Freeze, a collection of nine songs rooted in more of an acoustic-country sound that were also recorded during the sessions for the main album.
Rating: 5/10

6 comments:

  1. After their Shake Your Money Maker release, I picked up Three Snakes and One Charm, and was hugely disappointed. I can't think of one song on that album that doesn't make me hit 'next' on my iPod when it comes on. Really disappointing after the home run that was Money Maker. Haven't really paid them much attention since.

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  2. FYI...Luther Dickinson (of NMA fame) does the slide guitar work on "Good Morning Captain" and throughout the entire album.

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  3. I stand corrected on the slide guitar credit. Thanks for setting me straight.

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  4. Paul,

    'Shake Your Money Maker' is definitely on of their best albums and every other studio release up until 2008's 'Warpaint' was excellent as well IMO.

    Check out a couple of tunes called "Soul Singing" and "Lickin'" from their 'Lions' album - those are two of my favourite Crowes tracks.

    Thanks for the comment, too.

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  5. "Soul Singing" is a great track but I'm not sure about "Lickin". I haven't listen to Lions in probably 10 years!

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  6. I dug it out after my last post and listened to it for the first time in a few years and it sounded even better than I remembered.

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