As one of the great American bands of the past twenty years, The Black Crowes have just about seen and done it all. They have also stubbornly followed their music, no matter where it led them, or how unpopular it might have been. It is a trait that has earned the respect of fans and critics alike for many years now, regardless of their chart status.
But it all may be coming to an end with the release of Croweology. Strong rumors have surfaced that the tumultuous group will call it a day after the tour. If so, the guys will have pulled off something that nobody thought possible, a graceful exit from the big tent of rock ‘n’ roll.
Croweology is a two-disc set, and features twenty newly recorded acoustic versions of classic tracks. The music is played fast and loose, in what sounds at times like a live-in-the-studio setting. All the key elements are here, from gospel to blues, rock to soul, with some serious jamming along the way. The classic early seventies vibe they like so much is ever present, and a couple of new tricks are added to make things even more interesting.
There is no denying that the selection is weighted strongly toward the first four albums. But with songs like “She Talks To Angels,” “Thorn In My Pride,” and “Remedy” in pocket, who can blame them? Gospel was a big influence early on, but became less of a factor after The Southern Home And Music Companion. The sound returns via some gorgeous choral backgrounds, and is utilized on a number of tracks, including “Jealous Again,” “Soul Singing,” and “Morning Song.”
The hippie tendencies that The Black Crowes have always proudly identified with are here as well. Say what you want, but The Grateful Dead and The Allman Brothers both made some incredible music in their day. Chris and Rich Robinson obviously agree, paying tribute in with “Thorn In My Pride,” and the outstanding “Non Fiction.”
The Faces were another major inspiration, most noticeably on the first two albums. With the arrangement of “Welcome To The Good Times” the band alter the script a bit by looking back at some solo Rod Stewart material, circa 1971. Their reworking of the tune and the prominent placing of the mandolin would have fit nicely on Rod’s classic Every Picture Tells A Story.
The most striking addition to the music of The Black Crowes comes from what may seem an unlikely source at first. Most people agree that Van Morrison recorded some of his best work between 1970-74, with albums like Moondance and Veedon Fleece. What never seems to get acknowledged though is the amazing accompaniment he received from the band he had at the time.
The Black Crowes certainly understand the vitality of what that band were doing. They have internalized the unique sound and arranged “Ballad In Urgency,” and “Wiser Time” in much the same way. The results are two of the best cuts I think I have ever heard from them.
I would hate to see the Crowes pack it in, but the rumors could wind up being true in the end. The greatest hits format of Croweology is the most damning evidence for this being the case. There is no getting around the fact that It is a summing up of their career, no matter how you look at it. One big plus for the band is that If things do end now, they have managed to go out on a high note. Croweology would be remembered as a goodby gesture done with both dignity and class.