Tag Archives: Chris Robinson

20 Years Of Tall Tales

No, not mine. Hell, I’ve been telling tall tales a lot longer than that.

20 Years of Tall Tales is the title of the web series The Black Crowes will roll out starting Tuesday August 3rd, which also happens to be the street date for their double album Croweology. I’m stoked to hear this collection of all-acoustic material; new arrangements of some of their best-loved classics as well as some choice deep cuts.

The Crowes have been around long enough to generate their own legacy of misdeeds, misunderstandings and folklore, and when you factor in a pair of (sometimes) battling brothers and a fiery independent spirit, the epic legacy is a bit daunting. So as a treat to fans and a middle finger to the naysayers, a series of webisodes were filmed at Chris Robinson’s home and will be released one per day at their website.

The press release says it all:

It’s all here: the highs, the lows, controversies, arrests, feuds and more.  20 Years of Tall Tales was directed and produced by John Vanover and filmed earlier this month at Robinson’s Los Angeles home.

• Did The Black Crowes – a band that has never played it musically or commercially safe and at times been crucified for it – really spend $1,000,000 recording an album (Tall) that went unreleased for more than a decade? 
• What really happened in that Denver convenience store that led to Chris’ arrest?  
• Why was the band really fired from the Aerosmith tour before being reinstated? 
• What really went on in the studio the night the band held a bacchanalia for the amorica album? 
• What really drives the relationship between Chris and his brother, guitarist
Rich Robinson?   
• How did the union of The Black Crowes and Oasis on the “Tour of Brotherly Love” actually cancel out the feuds of both bands’ brothers? 
• And what about the band’s recently announced lengthy hiatus that will begin when their upcoming “SAY GOODNIGHT TO THE BAD GUYS 2010” tour ends this year with an epic six-night stand in San Francisco at The Fillmore December 12-19?

Fasten your seat belts as The Black CrowesChris Robinson (vocals/guitar), Rich Robinson (guitar), Steve Gorman (drums), Sven Pipien (bass), Luther Dickinson (guitar) and Adam McDougall (keyboards)–share the ride in 20 Years of Tall Tales.

Megaforce Records

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Blast From The Past: Page/Crowes

Black Crowley Magic

Hard to believe that this collaboration between the Led Zeppelin guitarist and the Black Crowes was almost a decade ago, isn’t it? Maybe it was the similarity between “Crowes” and “Crowley” that confused the reclusive axeman enough to get him back onto the stage, but who cares? The combination of great rock band and legendary guitarist was magical…having that rich Zeppelin catalogue to draw upon wasn’t too shabby, either. 

Fourteen Zep covers, six blues tracks and two CDs that still snap today. Originally a digital-only release (as referenced in the review below), physical media soon followed for the Luddites among us. The Black Crowes have recently resurfaced with a vengeance and this set could slide right in, especially since their current incarnation features another guitar slinger, Luther Dickinson. Play this one loud! 

Here are my words from 2000 as they ran in PopMatters… 

 

The recording and distribution of live music is undergoing massive changes right along with the rest of the record industry. This 19 track, two-CD release may go down in history as the one that convinced everyone that the revolution was not going to be televised, it was going to be made available in digital format. MusicMaker is signing artists and labels up left and right, and a recent deal with AOL guarantees the kind of visibility that will turn conventional business, and even the infant digital download industry, on its ear. But you can read all about that on their website and the various news sources that are available to you. I came here to rock. 

The liner notes on my review copy are nonexistent, and I imagine that anything less than the full release will get the same treatment (a typed track listing on the back cover), although buyers should at least get the neat looking cover art. And sure, there are dumb nits to pick—“Shapes Of Things” is listed as “Shapes Of Things To Come”, and all the songs fade out and in (how else could you sequence your own record). But what counts is what is inside the jewel case, and for the most part that’s legendary Jimmy Page sounding genuinely inspired thanks to the prodding of the young turks backing him up. Likewise, The Black Crowes sound like they are having a blast going toe-to-toe with Page rather than treating him like an unapproachable icon. The result is some exciting rock and roll, Zep songs and blues covers that will thrill fans of both artists. 

The Robert Plant comparisons will naturally arise, and while Chris Robinson is more of a Steve Marriott man than a Plant guy, he usually hits the mark. Sure, he holds that note in “Whole Lotta Love” for only eight beats, but Plant can’t do that anymore either. And yes, on “Celebration Day” he does run out of steam at the end and sounds more like Bette Davis. But “Your Time Is Gonna Come” faithfully recreates one of Zep’s best moments, and “The Lemon Song,” “Hey Hey What Can I Do” and “Heartbreaker” are all major league keepers. And even though it’s jarring to hear “Heartbreaker” without “Livin’ Lovin’ Maid” racing in a half-beat afterwards, it’s one of the highlights of the record. The keyboards add a great fullness to the three guitar lineup; songs like “Sloppy Drunk” and “Shake Your Money Maker” just plain rock. 

The minimum purchase is any five songs for five dollars, with additional songs one dollar each. “Oh Well” and “What Is And What Never Should Be” have even popped up as promotional freebies. But considering that the price of this collection is far less than any of your Crowes or Zep bootlegs, the sound quality is immensely superior, you can check out samples beforehand, you can order it piecemeal and (most importantly) the artists are not being screwed out of money in the process, what are you waiting for? Go get Live at the Greek now

Check out some clips at Amazon. 

In My Time of Dying

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Under The Radar: Sulo / Diamond Dogs

Diamond dogs

Up The Rock

Prescription readers know that I am a huge Faces fan, and I rue the day that the team of Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood went their separate ways. Although each has stayed at the forefront of the music scene, I’m hard pressed to find work by either man that can stand alongside the output from their partnership. When The Faces went away, they left a hole in my rock’n’roll heart.

Many bands like the Quireboys and early Black Crowes did their best to fill the void, but each had their own path to pursue. But ten years ago, I accidentally stumbled across the Diamond Dogs, a killer rock band from Sweden, and that’s been the closest I’ve seen anyone come to capturing the music and the spirit of my barroom boys. Of course albums were hard to come by – even some I was able to grab have gone out of print – but thankfully some of the material is out there for grabs.

Here’s a review of That’s The Juice I’m On from 2003, back in their Feedback Boogie label days:

Diamond Dogs juice

The Faces will never reunite – hell, the box set has been dragging its ass for four years plus – but if you still miss the rhythm and booze swagger of Rod and Ronnie I have the band for you. Sweden, of all places, has spent the last few years exporting great bands that land here well under the radar. Diamond Dogs is the cream of the crop, slipping into the shoes of the masters and continuing to champion soulful, energetic, pint-in-the-air rock and roll.

Juice is the sixth, seventh or eight album depending whom you ask, and figuring out whether the current band has five, seven or nine members is also an exercise in futility. But just listen as “Passing Through My Heart” perfectly blends the best parts of “You Wear It Well” and “Ooh La La”. Smile when “Throw It All Away” and “Get The Monkey Off” make you run to the shelf to grab A Nod Is As Good As A Wink To A Blind Horse.

Chris Robinson gave it a good shot with the Black Crowes, but this is the real deal, from Sulo’s whiskey voice down to Henrik Widen’s fat organ and rollicking piano homage to the great Ian McLagan. Juice is a collection of alternate versions and unreleased tracks from the past couple of years but stands up as an album, even featuring the requisite killer cover song (a smoldering version of “Pills”) the band is noted for. If you hear one record by the Dogs you’ll want them all, so you might as well start here.

They’ve made more great records since then, and while some of the musicians continued to perform with their other bands (Hellacopters, Dogs D’Amour, etc.) lead singer Sulo cut two excellent solo albums. Reminiscent of the glory days when Rod and The Faces each made a record a year, but without the drama or imbalance. Last year the Diamond Dogs played some tour dates with Jason and the Scorchers, Dan Baird and The Quireboys and released yet another album, and supposedly there’s a live one in the pipeline. 

And Sulo has been a busy guy as well. Besides the Diamond Dogs, the Bitter Twins and other one-off projects, he’s released two more albums! I’m in the process of getting copies and will have links to full reviews soon, but in the meantime, check out the links below and enjoy some of the best music not being played on the radio in America.

Sulo’s Hear Me Out on Amazon.

Sulo’s collaboration with Ernst Brunner.

Diamond Dogs on Smilodon Records

Diamond Dogs on MySpace

Sulo on MySpace

Bitter Twins on MySpace.

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New Album! Black Crowes

 black crowes warpaint

I’ll put my cards on the table and tell you that I did not slip this DVD in the player with an open mind. Since I thought Warpaint was the best album of 2008, I had high expectations for this show where the band played the album – in sequence – live. Show me, boyos.

But the Black Crowes did not falter, they delivered, and the performance left me pondering where Luther Dickinson belongs on the list of great guitar players. He is amazing.

The 2008/2009 configuration of the band might be the best ever. Chris Robinson is in great voice, and brother Rich doesn’t have to shoulder the pyrotechnics on guitar. The rhythm section is top notch, Sven Pipien and Scott Gorman are formidable and keyboard player Adam MacDougall is a secret weapon. A Black Crowes show is as much about atmosphere as it is about performance, and as they have shown us before, seeing is believing.

This is a rejuvenated band catching a second wind and maximizing the opportunity. I cannot wait to hear the new album that’s dropping today. But until it arrives? Yeah, this puppy will hold me over bigtime. Warpaint Live is a blast.

Read all about it in my review in Blurt.

Read my thoughts about the studio album Warpaint here.

black crowes peace

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2008 Countdown: 3, 2, 1

The countdown of the Best Albums of 2008 concludes today with the three best albums of 2008…

 

3. The New Odds:  Cheerleader

cheerleader

With three of the four Odds back in the fold (Godspeed, Steven Drake) it would have been easy enough to omit the word “new” from the band name. I mean, hell…New Cars didn’t work, did it? New Coke? And wasn’t the failure to cash in for the big bucks from their now-housewife fans totally because that 80s phenomenon didn’t call themselves The Old Kids On The Block? But I trust Craig Northey’s instincts, and if he felt it was time for reinventing the band name, at least he retained the songwriting chops that made Odds (no “The”, thanks) one of the best and most cruelly ignored bands of the past twenty years.

The humor is much more sardonic than the early days. While I’ll never tire of “Heterosexual Man”, it’s songs like “Mercy To Go” and “I Would Be Your Man” and “Suppertime” that resonated far deeper. I could list thirty songs that are musically infectious but lyrically beautiful, and wrapping that up with pitch-perfect harmony and gigantic hooks was just icing on the cake. If I was stunned, album by album, by the lack of success the band found in the States, can you imagine what they felt? And of course, just as they finally looked to have a hit single (“Someone Who’s Cool”), radio formats changed and the band drifted apart…although Northey, drummer Pat Steward and bassist Doug Elliott continued to play together under various names as well as backing up several other artists. So when it came time to “put the band hat back on”, jam pal (and Odds fan) Murray Atkinson was drafted to fill the other guitar slot, and it’s as if they never left.

I sheepishly admit that the song I play the loudest, “My Happy Place”, is just a big, fun dumb rock song, which even Northey admits has “no tangerine trees and marmalade skies”, offering “I saw your chicken dance / Mr. Smartypants” instead. But I can forgive that when the very next track can toss “Vandalism is the voice of the people / when they’ve got nothing good to say” on the table as the opening bid. As with any Odds album, there are several great turns of phrase, wonderfully inventive chord structures and bridges, but mostly a collection of tracks that are as pleasing to play dashboard drummer to as they are to sit and ponder and appreciate as short stories. In fact, many of the songs sequester some pretty dark subject matter behind happy, hook-filled tunes that recall any number of classic upbeat pop bands like The Who, Badfinger and Squeeze.

“Breakthrough” is bouncy powerpop but about a mid-life crisis; while the finger-popping “Jumper” details the last thoughts of a suicidal man with a broken heart. Likewise “I Can’t Get You Off” might at first seem an optimistic “getting past you” tale; you’ll find yourself singing along with the chorus like it’s a bubblegum song. But the hooks aren’t the only think about the song that kills…the singer has just witnessed a fatal car crash and can’t escape the image that’s burned into his head.

I probably would have left a song or two off if I were the producer; “Leaders Of The Undersea World” doesn’t mesh as well and “Come To LA” isn’t the best way to end the album. Maybe that would bring better focus to absolute gems like “Always Breaking Heart”. The songwriting is group-attributed, although one song was from a Northey solo album, and I love the musical diversity and the production. But when Craig Northey’s voice soars over a swelling chorus with three pitch-perfect voices supporting it – like the last thirty seconds of “Feel Like This All The Time” – then I am in my happy place.

 

2. Marah:  Angels Of Destruction

marah-angels

Just when you think the Bielanko Brothers have found the perfect band to grow with, and into, the rhythm section is jettisoned and a new Marah starts to incubate on the road. But those results will be dealt with next time around; Angels Of Destruction benefits from the tight bond established with their former band mates (Adam Garbinski and Dave Petersen on guitar and drums, respectively) and especially their wild card instrumentalist and engineer Kirk Henderson. Coming off an album that most critics raved about as a major comeback the challenge was now to maintain the rediscovered momentum. As they have been prone to do recently, Marah whittled down a few dozen possibilities into a circular musical and spiritual theme, where aural and lyrical cues are repeated and cross-pollinated to reward those who use the repeat button instead of shuffle play.

The first few seconds of “Coughing Up Blood”, with its strange vocal snippet and tune-challenged guitar, probably caused even the hardcore fans to cock an eyebrow. But then the stew kicks in, throbbing bass, muffled chants in the background like someone gargling down the hallway, a truckload of instruments – literally bells and whistles – making cameo appearances as the train keeps chugging down the tracks. Segue, of course, right into the pounding “Time Ticking Away”, whose walking Philly Soul bass line steams alongside chugging guitar until it ramps up into a “Suffragette City” starburst and ends with a pop. That second of silence cleverly cleanses the aural palate for what is the heart of the album.

How else to classify “Angels On A Passing Train” except to say that Marah starts out like they’re doing a cover of Fastball’s “The Way” and then rocks the tango? “Wild West Love Song” is a hyperactive skiffle with mile-a-minute lyrics, breathlessly propelled by horns and a repetitive guitar loop (if Dave wasn’t singing I imagine he’d be tap dancing across the stage, with straw hat and cane, winking at the pit band). And then “Blue But Cool” just floors me, from the piano that’s just off the beat and just a microbe out of tune (but perfect), to the way the background response answers the call the third time the chorus comes slithering around. And like many of his beer-on-the-fire-escape reflections, it’s a poignant look at a relationship in transition where hope is there for the taking – or not (“now that we are home darling / how come we keep starin’ out the front door?”). I think Christine Smith’s influence (judging from her solo work) has helped strengthen these small introspective tales as well as add new color to their Big Mummer Moments like “Can’t Take It With You” (which now reveals that the line quoted prior to “Coughing” had a home after all. Perhaps flipping positions with “Wilderness” in the track order would have made the ending of the album stronger?).

I could lose “Songbirds” without complaint; it’s a decent enough song but the weakest vocal on the album and separates the joyous “Santos De Madera” from the anthemic title track. “Santos” throws in the kitchen sink – phasing, accordion, breathless background vocals and fiddle, a cumulative effect that echoes early Band, Bruce and Rod. “Angels Of Destruction” cannily borrows the same backbeat as “Santos” but layers something completely new on top; like stripping a car down to the chassis and rebuilding with other parts. Where the vocal and chorus of “la las” punctuate the former, it’s a fat power chord and handclaps driving the latter, a sneaky but effective way of making you seem familiar with the song the first time through. It would be a weak move if both songs weren’t instantly likeable; if there were such things as Marah hit singles both would qualify.

Yes, the beer and shots are gone, and the album is about seeing the world through new-found sobriety, which makes it personal (cue hidden bonus track “Tippecanoe”). But Angels of Destruction is an album about hope and redemption and choice. How ironic for an album released in January of 2008; do any of those themes ring a bell one year later?  I don’t know what Marah has up their sleeve for their next move, nor do I have the faintest idea when it will happen or who Serge and Dave will rope in to help create it. But seven albums down the road, I do know two things: (1) It won’t be boring, and (2) I can’t wait to hear it.

 

1. The Black Crowes:  Warpaint

crowes-warpaint1

The title Warpaint might be the perfect metaphor for a band that has regrouped figuratively and literally and is once again ready to take no prisoners. With yet another personnel shuffle and a recommitment between the Robinson brothers (leveraging the trust forged with Birds Of A Feather), The Black Crowes have not just climbed back in the ring, they’ve pounded lethargy and confusion into submission and regained the title.

“Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution” is quintessential Crowes, each instrument layering in and warming up, then Chris Robinson’s soulful rasp jumping in the saddle (“put a little grease on my axle …nowwww”) and riding it home. The pairing of Luther Dickinson with Rich Robinson energizes an Allman-esque guitar interplay that seems to lift the entire band to another level of commitment, and Chris Robinson’s expressively raspy voice has only gotten fuller and richer with time. As a kick-off track, it’s as immediate a validation of an album as you’ll ever hear. And while the next track is also forceful, it’s the gorgeously mid-tempo “Oh Josephine” that’s the key to the sound of these “new” Crowes. They’ve struck gold with similar tempos before, but the stellar production on this album gives even the subtlest nuances a swagger that you can’t help be overwhelmed by.

“Locust Street” is a delicate country blues, utilizing mandolin, dobro and subtle piano flavorings winningly. “Movin On Down The Line” has a haunting opening that could be effortlessly slotted anywhere on Exile On Main Street; perhaps ideally book ending “Let It Loose”. But slowly, it transitions into a bluesy country shuffle that percolates into a full jam. “Wounded Bird” might bridge the past and present best – a filthy, fuzzy bong anthem. Slide guitar paces the Leslie-fueled organ and hop-skipping drums until finally settling into the final groove featuring Robinson extending syllables to coast to a stop. And speaking of Exile and muddy, filthy guitar, the foot-stomping gospel cover “Gods Got It” is infectious enough to lead a conga line into that church and raise the roof. While the band’s love of black gospel and blues might be well-documented (as is Jagger’s, for that matter), rarely did either find a vehicle as soulful and joyous as this.

The band heard criticism for the slow ballad “There’s Gold In Them Hills”, but I found it to be a beautiful, sprawling song that is begging for a Western worthy enough to showcase it. I suppose I could then bundle “Whoa Mule” along for the ride, although it’s the bottleneck slide I savor the most. Like an after dinner cocktail, the song itself is a gentle landing after the journey, intimate and quiet, like slipping into the shadows.

The first time the Black Crowes were on the David Letterman show they burned the place to the ground with “Jealous Again”, their impeccable Faces/Stones hybrid track from their debut album. Frankly, they were jaw-dropping breath of fresh air, especially after a decade and a half or noodly synth-crap passing as hit radio. Letterman, a bonafide rock fan, was floored… leading him to offer perhaps my favorite one-sentence review of all time…“that was just turn-the-dump-over, go-home-with-the-waitress rock and roll!” (As as a former bartender I know exactly what he meant!) Too bad that clip cuts off just before Letterman talks, but (1) when have you seen Paul have that much genuine fun, and (2) Letterman called the band “kids”. My god, we’re all getting old.

But honest, uncompromised rock’n’roll is timeless, and so are The Black Crowes. Who would have known at the time how much depth and tenacity and soulful spirit they would continue to have fifteen-plus years down the road? Even familiar with Warpaint after several dozen spins, I popped it in the player on a winding mountain drive and it spoke to me as vividly and religiously as it did on first focused listen. This is one for the ages; the best album of 2008.

And there you have it…Countdown 2008!

Thanks for reading…please stop back daily.

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