our score: 4.0 out of 5.0
Crowes' decision to tap uber-producer Don Was for their six album,
Lions, met with skepticism from several who believed his
glossy pop production didn't jive with the '70s southern rock
revivalists' sound. But the band proceeded as planned, setting
up shop in a converted Yiddish musical theater in New York to
record the follow-up to 1999's By Your Side. Surrounded
by incense and flickering candles, the Crowes proved the doubting
Thomases wrong and laid down the best unofficial comeback album
in recent memory.
have established a reputation for being a hard-working touring
band, largely through their decision to allow fans to tape their
live performances. But it's been a while since they've written
a song worthy of the effort it takes to tote that recording equipment
to a show. The band's third release, Amorica, was more
notable for its racy cover art than its sonic quality, and 1996's
Three Snakes and One Charm was a messy collection of pot-induced
tripe. The Crowes cleaned up and tried to make a comeback of sorts
with Side in '99, but failed to return to the gritty blues-rock
style they had introduced in 1990 with Shake Your Money Maker
and perfected on the follow-up, Southern Harmony and Musical
Companion. With a VH1 Behind the Music episode already behind
them, the future looked bleak.
Rich Robinson's grinding opening riff and brother Chris's sinister
growl on "Midnight From the Inside Out," it's clear
the Crowes got down and rolled around in the mud to regain their
dirty southern rock sound for Lions. A rumbling dirge of guitar
fuzz augmented by Chris's trademark screams, it's a much-needed
musical enema that flushes out the remains of their previous misfires.
"Greasy Grass River," a bluesy romp of mountain-top
guitar solos and crashing cymbals, is another welcome return to
the good old fashioned rock 'n roll the Crowes are capable of
writing. But it's the rapture-inducing sing-along of "Soul
Singing" that you'll be clapping to for the rest of the summer.
Jimmy Page over the past two years may have rejuvenated their
love for rambling-man rock, but the brothers Robinson aren't too
macho to unplug and throw in a few ballads for good measure. "Lay
it All on Me" is the closest they've come to recapturing
the beauty of Money Maker's "She Talks to Angels,"
and keyboardist Ed Harsch, who joined the band on Southern
Harmony, lays down a soft, piano-bar accompaniment that gives
a nod to Billy Joel's "Piano Man."
music has always had a familiar sounding quality. Often dismissed
as a latter-day Led Zeppelin cover band, they've never tried to
hide their derivative nature, but few have had as much success
channeling the spirits of Page and Plant as Robinson and Robinson.
(It's no coincidence their covers of Zeppelin classics like "Shapes
of Things to Come" and "Whole Lotta Love" sounded
so good on 2000's live release, Live
at the Greek.) They show no signs of changing their ways
with Lions, but at least this time they've expanded their
influences. The dancing piano of "Cosmic Friend" is
pure Yellow Submarine-era Beatles, and the power-ballad
string arrangement of "Losing My Mind" scream of Aerosmith's
"I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing." But there are worse bands
So for all
the debate over how Was would alter The Black Crowes' sound, the
results of his knob-twiddling did nothing short of bring back
their '70s bell-bottom swagger. After two albums-worth of sub-par
material, Lions finds the Crowes knee-deep in the territory
they know best.