Black Crowes’ New EP Of 6 Covers (From The Year) ‘1972’ – Glorious, Good Rockin’ Fun

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I was fortunate enough to be able to take a couple of days off last week and go to points out West to visit my beloved daughter. I’m lucky that I have vacation days when I realize a lot of folks don’t have time off. But after an action-packed weekend that included my getting to see one of my favorite bands The Cult in concert, I was dragging come Monday morning. But then who isn’t dragging on Monday mornings? I knew other than overdosing on coffee or being hit in the chest with a defibrillator I was going to need some help to get through the early part of the week. For me that help came in the form of rock n roll. Music really can always heal what ails me, even fatigue.

I had it in the back of my mind last weekend the Black Crowes had finally released their EP of cover songs that Friday. I was only half right about that. I looked in all the regular places I buy and listen to music – and it astounds me how many options I have now – and I couldn’t find the new Crowes’ EP, entitled 1972. Apparently you can only buy the LP or the CD through Amazon. I’m not a big streaming guy (admittedly my playlists are out on alas, Spotify) but the only place I could hear this was streaming through Amazon Prime. I want to buy the vinyl but I want to do that in a local record store from a pierced and tattoo’d hippy while breathing in lovely, musty old used records and incense. A man has to have some standards in this life and ordering vinyl from the dark empire of Amazon just seems wrong. I get my vitamins there, I’m not getting my vinyl there. I have a code I live by, folks. Having a code to live by, like those little paper cocktail napkins, is what separates us from the savages.

The new Crowes’ EP, 1972 is titled thus because it contains six tracks all originally released in 1972. As long time readers know, we here at B&V celebrated 1972 as well on a playlist dedicated to albums released during that awesome year in rock n roll. Well, this is the Crowes version of that celebration, or so it seems. I can’t tell you how much joy listening to the Black Crowes’ lusty renditions of 1972-era tracks has given me this week. Of course I’m on record as loving cover songs – a song originally recorded by someone else that a band re -records. I even dig when an artist has done an entire LP of covers (and have posted about “Cover Albums”), like Bowie’s Pin-Ups or Bob Seger’s Smokin’ O.P.s.

I have loved the Crowes since the first time I heard the opening riff on “Jealous Again” while tooling down the highway during my unemployed gypsy year in 1990. Their first two albums are amongst the greatest rock albums ever in my opinion. They recently celebrated the 30th anniversary of Shake Your Money Maker and it was a great box set. It included a full concert from ’90 and a slew of unreleased bonus tracks including the Humble Pie cover “30 Days In The Hole,” and a lost original that I loved, “Charming Mess.” I read somewhere that Chris and Rich Robinson reached out to get Rod Stewart’s blessing on the release of “Charming Mess” because it sounded so much like the Faces. I do hear echos of “Stay With Me” but hey everybody has influences. Even since those early days the Black Crowes were doing interesting things with cover songs. Shake Your Money Maker had their great Otis Redding cover “Hard To Handle.” And also apparently the aforementioned unreleased Humble Pie cover “30 Days In The Hole.” Their second LP, the masterpiece, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion also had a cover – this time Bob Marley’s “Time Will Tell.” From Otis and Humble Pie to Bob Marley show the Crowes have a great eclectic range.

The Crowes, after that early huge success, continued to put out great albums. Three Snakes And A Charm and By Your Side are two of my favorite of their LPs. But alas, the relationship between the brothers Robinson was a rocky one. The band has broken up a few times. When they would get back together they would release additional great music, like the album Warpaint. It’s the best Black Crowes’ album you’ve probably  never heard. They’ve got a host of great live stuff out there as well. Eventually the relationship between Chris Robinson (vocals) and Rich Robinson (guitar) was so bad the band broke up and they even stopped speaking. I feel bad for their mother. They went years without talking. It’s often difficult when siblings form bands… Eventually the brothers reconciled. I read an article about them, right before Covid struck, and I was genuinely pleased for them as people, as brothers, as much as I was that they were trying to get the band back together. They decided to reform without any of the other original members who they believed were contributors to the toxicity of their relationship. I assume they’re speaking of longtime drummer Steve Gorman who wrote a “tell-all” that wasn’t exactly a flattering portrayal.

Like the Stones who they were so often compared to in their early days, the Crowes were taking slow steps to repair the fractured relationships between the principal members and songwriters, the Robinsons. Their plan, pre-Covid, was to tour first and see how they got on. The new band was Chris (vocals), Rich (guitar) with Isiah Mitchell (guitar), Joel Robinow (keyboards) and eventually former member Sven Pippen (bass) and journeyman drummer Brian Griffin. It’s just fun to say the name Sven Pippen. If I was in high school and I needed a fake name to give cops when they were confiscating my underage beer, I’d give the name Sven Pippen but I digress. They played a few shows but then Covid ruined everything. I see this EP of covers songs as a way for them to all see how they’re gelling as a band. To see if the repaired relationships can stand. It’s just another step in the Crowes journey to re-establish that all important chemistry. They probably wanted to see if they could go into the studio and get along… why put songwriting pressure on yourselves? They’ve supposedly written around 20 songs but they want to tour first before actually committing those to tape. I totally get that. Consider 1972 another step in that creative journey.

Well let me tell you, if 1972 is the yardstick we’re using for the Black Crowes, I think the chemistry is back! They play these six songs with such joy. You can literally tell how much fun they’re having. The EP kicks off with a Stones cover, “Rip This Joint.” The thing I love about covers is they’re like “two-fers.” You get the vibe of the original artist and the new artist at the same time, in one song. I feel like the Crowes were made to cover the Stones. What a great choice from Exile On Main Street. It gets the rock and roll cookin’. They also cover one of my all time favorite Rod Stewart solo tracks, “You Wear It Well.” That is coincidentally a track I chose for my aforementioned 1972 playlist. The Crowes doing the Stones and Rod (whose Faces were clearly an influence) just makes sense. The Rock Chick heard me jamming on the Black Crowes once and said, “I know why you like them, they sound like the Faces.” True, indeed. Both these songs put a smile on my face.

They also do two tracks associated with Glam Rock. They do T. Rex’s track “The Slider.” “The Slider” was Marc Bolan’s ode to cocaine. The Crowes really do the track justice. They’re version is faithful but heavier. They wring everything they can out of the riff. Chris in particular sounds like he’s really enjoying this track. The other Glam Rock track they do is Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream.” I’ve gotta say it takes balls to do a Bowie cover, especially from Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars. Like the T. Rex track the Black Crowes are faithful to “Moonage Daydream” but they do it slightly heavier. They actually stretch out and jam the guitar parts toward the end to really make it sound Black Crowes-y. What can I say, I was bowled over by this track.

Finally, it wouldn’t be the Crowes doing cover songs if they didn’t throw us a couple of curve balls. I was so thrilled to see that they did a version of Little Feat’s “Easy To Slip.” I recently told a friend, if I hear a band doing a Little Feat cover, I’m instantly more interested in the album.” Rich takes the lead vocal – taking his Keith Richards’ like turn at the mic – and he nails it. It’s a mostly acoustic take with great organ and I dug it. Chris provides a joyous harmony vocal. Little Feat were a West Coast band but they always had a southern vibe to me… The biggest curve ball for most folks is going to be the final track, the Temptations’ great song, “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone.” The Crowes have covered everything from country-rock (“Hot Burrito #1”) to soul (“Hard To Handle”) so it shouldn’t be surprised that they decided to do a funky Motown track. Oh my Gawd, I love this track! It may be my favorite on the EP. Of course its a track that I chose for my 1972 playlist so maybe I’m probably biased. When the drums hit with the fabulous organ and wah-wah guitar riff I defy you to sit down. There is also some great harmonica on this track. It’s a great version of the song.

1972 is the sound of a band having a really good time. It’s joyous music made joyously. I love that they did this in a thematic way, centered around so many of their influences from the 70s. I think this bodes well for the Black Crowes and whatever original music they end up making. The band sounds tight and together. If they head out on the road I am definitely going to try and see them again. Until then, sit back, turn this EP up and enjoy!!

Cheers!

Black Crowes: New Song “Charming Mess” From The 30th Anniversary ‘Shake Your Money Maker’ Expanded Edition

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“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!