Earlier this year brothers Chris and Rich Robinson announced that The Black Crowes had split following artistic differences. Those who have followed the band closely since their break out album Shake Your Money Maker in 1990, are well aware of their history of hiatus, so I guess only time will tell if they will get things together again. As a final swan song or a mouth watering reminder of their rock glory on their 25th anniversary, the band have reissued their first four albums on heavyweight vinyl.
Their fine debut Shake Your Money Makersold 30 million albums and boasted two hit singles making the band hot property on the rock scene. The album inevitably led to comparisons with The Rolling Stones, The Faces and had the right amount of a bluesy hard rock edge to catch the attention of one Jimmy Page. The album opener Twice As Hard has a twang of 90s American rock to it which is to be expected due to the production, but it has also aged well. It's easy to forget that such a crowd pleasing rock track failed to set the charts on fire. The blues influence on the album wouldn't be complete without a classic cover which comes in the shape of Otis Redding's Hard To Handle. The bitter sweet She Talks To Angels, epitomises the outsider rock culture of the 90s and Stare It Cold is a great example of the band at their raw bluesy best.
1992 saw the release of the double platinum selling The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion. It follows on from their debut in terms of style but wrack things up a notch with slicker production, soulful southern harmonies and benefits from Marc Ford's energetic and wholesome guitar work. Chris' vocals are also more confident on this album, you get the impression he's freer, just check out the opening track Sting Me to hear that his performance is more open and vibrant. The entire album just bursts with exuberance and life, it has some suburb musicianship and sees the band branching out with different musical layers and effects. Thorn In My Pride is one of the best tracks they have recorded, Black Moon Rising and No Speak No Slave hark back to bands like Led Zeppelin and The Faces, in the early 90s this sound was a refreshing reinvention for the nineties.
If you didn't buy Amorica, you may remember the brew ha ha about the cover featuring a woman in a bikini which was eventually censored and became one of those iconic album covers as a result. The year was 1994 and Brit pop was taking hold of the UK but Amorica managed to slip into the charts and reach #8, once again it's a progressive sound for the time. In the opening of A Conspiracy Chris sings 'ain't it funny how time flies' it is hard to believe that the album is over 20 years old being so tonally similar to many of today's rock bands penchant for fuzzy growling guitars and bass, Cursed Diamond and 25 London being good examples. She Gave Good Sunflower and Downtown Money Waster are just great songs. The album continues their shift away from the mainstream music of the time towards a more personal sound.
The final release, Three Snakes and One Charm,initially released in 1996 is the final part in their evolution in sound and style. After the Amorica or Bust tour in 1995 the band were not in a good place with the brothers relationship being particularly wrought, so there's a lot of raw aggression detected in the album. On the surface it sounds like much of The Black Crowes other work, but there's an edge here that is absent in their earlier albums. To get away from the studio machine and to help cool the atmosphere between the band, the guys rented a house to record the album which helped them relax and focus their creative energies. Some would say it's possibly their best album as a result, the musicianship is more defined and their sound is more dynamic. Overall there is a high calibre of work here from the southern rock gravitas of Good Friday and Under A Mountain to the psychedelic musings of Evil Eye. Although it's not as groundbreaking as some of their earlier output, but band appear to have found a renewed energy that fits their image and style with this release.
Needless to say, these re-issues come at a perfect time for hipsters and ardent fans of The Black Crowes. As a complete package chronicling some of their finest work, this retrospective release is certainly a perfect addition to the American rock cannon of any collector.