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!!