“Singing, what a charming little mess…” – The Black Crowes, “Charming Mess”
It was last summer, in the early days of the lockdown that my boredom overcame my sense of security and I left the safety of my attic, where’d I’d been living like Boo Radley for months, to venture down to the Plaza area of Kansas City. I must have been squinting up at the sun, high in the sky as I left the dark and shadowy confines of the place I’m living these days. I looked like I was being drug from my spider hole, like a deposed despot. I’m not sure I’d been outside in awhile. It’s a wonder we don’t all have agoraphobia. My boredom had peaked during those mid summer days because I’d done all the binge watching I could stand. Once you finish ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ it’s all downhill from there. The stack of books I keep in my office had run out. I had decided to leave my Covid-bubble and head down to the bookstore to refresh the reading pile. While I was looking for a book to read, I was also hopeful to find a decent rock n roll magazine. Rolling Stone just doesn’t captivate me any more, which is too bad as I’ve been an on-and-off subscriber since I was in college.
Much to my surprise, there were quite a few magazines on the rack devoted to music… a lot devoted to only rock n roll music if I’m being specific. As I stood in the mostly deserted book store I couldn’t help but think, I need to get out more. There were copies of a magazine I was aware of, Mojo, that I think comes out of England. As I perused further through the plethora of magazines with my latex gloves on (of course), I found something called Uncut. I had never heard of that one but it came with a sampler CD so I was in. Uncut had dozens of music reviews. The magazine that I was really drawn to however, was called Classic Rock. I was like, hell yes, you’re calling my name. I purchased the issue of Classic Rock with Chris and Rich Robinson of the Black Crowes on the cover. I never thought I’d see those guys names mentioned in the same sentence, let alone in a picture together, such was the hostility of their last break up (well, who am I kidding, all of their breakups have been volatile). I had highlighted them on my cautionary post about forming a band with your sibling(s), The Mark of Cain: When Brothers Form Bands.
I had heard in 2019 that the brothers Robinson had gotten back together in a tentative way to test the waters on a reunion. They even did a few acoustic shows, just the two of them. The article was really interesting. It talked about how the brothers were attempting to rebuild their relationship as people vs trying to jump right into a band situation. They’d agreed to tentatively try to work together after they had begun to get along. Well, if not get along, maybe they’d just gotten to a place where they weren’t fighting. They had decided that any future configuration of the Black Crowes would have to be, beyond themselves, no one who had been involved in the band prior. The second guitar and bass players in the Black Crowes have been a bit of a revolving door. Original drummer Steve Gorman has been in and out and he wrote a rather scathing autobiography about the band so I doubt he’s gonna get that reunion invite. There was an interesting quote from Rich Robinson, that when the brothers were united, nothing could stop them. I think what drove this Robinson family reunion – other than human decency – was the looming 30th anniversary of their landmark debut album, Shake Your Money Maker. I had sort of lost track of the Crowes, although I have their two last LPs, and they’re both great additions to their catalog – Warpaint and Before the Frost…Until The Freeze. The Crowes changed their style and were more of a jam band toward the end but you wouldn’t know it listening to those two LPs.
I was excited to read all of this as I’ve always loved the Black Crowes and have considered them an important rock band since 1990. I remember sitting in a tavern with a friend and we declared that the 90s were going to be a new golden era of rock n roll. We felt that Soundgarden were the new Black Sabbath, Guns N Roses were the new Zeppelin and finally, the Black Crowes were our new Stones. There may have been drink involved in that train of thought but I think you get my drift. Of course within months grunge had taken over the world and everything took a different direction. Sure, grunge still signaled a golden age for rock, but not like my drunken friend and I were thinking. Reading that the Crowes were trying to get it back together gave me reason to celebrate. Of course, all of that got put on hold because of the dreaded virus. Despite that setback I’d been keeping an eye out for new Crowes music. I was even excited enough to buy their Christmas single, “Back Door Santa” (Single: Black Crowes, ‘Back Door Santa’ – Finally, A Xmas Song I Can Get Behind).
The 30th Anniversary box of Shake Your Money Maker has finally been announced for release in mid February. It looks like we’ll have a newly remastered version of the debut LP, a disc with some outtakes and unreleased covers from the recording session and a full concert from December of 1990 on their home turf in Atlanta. The Crowes were kicked off their opening slot for ZZ Top back in ’90 when they criticized ZZ for allowing their songs to be used in beer commercials, so I’m guessing this concert was after that debacle. Looking at the track list it appears that this will be a lot like some of the box sets that came out last year where the live stuff is the real draw. The Black Crowes look like they’re following the pattern, much like U2’s Review: U2, ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind (20th Anniversary Edition)’ or Lou Reed’s Review: Lou Reed ‘New York: Deluxe Edition’ recent box sets have followed in commemorating an important album. I will say, there are a couple of covers that I am looking forward to on this box. The Crowes do a version of Humble Pie’s “30 Days In the Hole” and John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy,” so famously covered by Crowes’ influence the Faces. They certainly had a good nose for cover songs.
Ahead of the box they’ve released one of those vault tracks that were meant for Shake Your Money Maker but for whatever reason didn’t make the cut, a song called “Charming Mess.” And as often happens when I hear tracks that are originally left off an album, I’m left to wonder out loud, how did this great rock song not make the cut? Upon some investigation, I found out that “Charming Mess” was originally intended to be the first single from the album. From first single to off the album… sounds like my professional career. “Charming Mess” is just a great, wide open rocker from the Crowes. It would have fit right in on the debut. I’ll admit, right off, that you can certainly hear the influences of the Faces (Rod Stewart on vocals, Ronnie Wood on guitar, Kenny Jones on drums, Ian McLagan on keys, and Ronnie Lane on bass who we’re on record as loving The Faces – Had Me a Real Good Time). When I first heard the riff I had to look up to see if this was a cover of the Faces’ “Stay With Me.” While it’s heavily influenced by the Faces, this still the Black Crowes. It’s a rollicking, riffing great tune and believe me when I say it’s fun to play extremely loud. The chorus has that sing-along quality and this would be great to hear in an arena. The Crowes suffered from a lot of comparisons to the Stones when they first came out – not unlike Greta Van Fleet & Led Zeppelin – maybe they chose to leave this track off the album to avoid further comparisons to their influences. I like their cover of Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle” but I can’t help but think this song would have been a hit and it been included instead.
Let’s hope this is a great opening salvo to another great boxset, retrospective look at a classic album. I have heard one of the covers on the box, “Jealous Guy” and it doesn’t disappoint either. In the end I hope the Robinson brothers have found a way to put their past acrimony behind them. And really, I think we all hope this will bring a tour – remember concerts? – and maybe, if we all say our prayers, some new music from one of the most important rock bands to emerge from the 1990s.
Cheers! Stay safe out there!