The resurgence of The Black Crowes continues with the release of The Lost Crowes, a two-CD set of some slightly new rock ‘n’ roll by The Robinson brothers and their cohorts: guitarist Marc Ford, keyboardist Eddie Harsch, bassist Johnny Colt and drummer Steve Gorman. The discs are divided into The Tall Sessions and The Band Sessions, already well known by devout followers of The Crowes. Thankfully, this isn’t the usual purge of tracks undeserving to see the light of day by an artist trying to fulfill a contract or a record company emptying out the shelves. Recently remixed by Paul Stacey, these are both strong, worthy albums to add to the Crowes discography.
The Tall Sessions were recorded in Los Angeles in 1993. In the liner notes, Rich Robinson described the time as “one long experience…wrought with bullshit and everyone fighting.” The band created more than 30 tunes, eight of which, “A Conspiracy,” “Cursed Diamond,” “London P25,” “Hi-Head Blues,” “Nonfiction,” “Wiser Time,” “Descending” and “Lowdown” (as “Ballad In Urgency”) were reworked for Amorica, released the following year. Two songs, the acoustic instrumental “Sunday Night Buttermilk Waltz” and “Song of the Flesh,” were released as bonus tracks on the remastered version of the album in 1998's box set Sho’ Nuff; however, Lost Crowes features new mixes.
As for the rest of the disc, “Evil Eye” has a different chorus here than in its appearance on 1996’s Three Snakes & One Charm. The remaining songs, though they may have been performed in concert, are new and show the band expanding their sound. “Dirty Hair Halo” delivers the Crowes standard rockin’ boogie and blues with a twist of psychedelia on the chorus vocal. “Feathers” is a slow, smoldering blues that rises and repeats, bringing to mind Led Zeppelin’s “Since I’ve Been Loving You” with Chris’ strong voice and great keyboard accompaniment.
“Tied Up and Swallow” is a big, sexy rocker with soaring guitars. Chris wails so hard it’s surprising he didn’t damage his voice. “Tornado” is an acoustic number with just Chris and a guitar. Most likely a demo track for the band to work up, but it sounds good as a simple country tune. Rich went on to say, “The Tall record is cool to see the blueprint – compared to what Amorica turned into.” I wholeheartedly agree.
After coming off the road touring with the Further Festival in 1997, the Band sessions were recorded in Atlanta, Georgia, and Nashville, Tennessee. In the liner notes, Chris says the Band sessions found them “moving towards rootsy, focused songs that were honest emotionally.” The songs have floated around trading circles like some from the Tall sessions have found their way into set lists over the years. The Crowes are now making them available to all, and it’s hard to understand why they kept it under wraps. It’s an enjoyable album.
Some of the songs will sound familiar to fans of the Crowes' later period. 1999’s By Your Side is represented with “Wyoming & Me,” which evolved into “Welcome to the Goodtimes,” and the guitar riff from “If It Ever Stops Raining” went on to be used for that album’s title track. “Peace Anyway” was a B-Side from that album’s single, “Only A Fool.” Parts of “Paint An 8” were worked into “Come On” from their last studio album, 2001’s Lions.
I would have liked to learn more about what was going on with Chris at the time because there’s quite a bit of melancholy infused during this session. Both “Predictable” and “Never Forget This Song” find him castigating someone, but it seems more like a friend than a lover. “Lifevest” continues in the same vein, turned inward as he wonders “How can I make something so wrong something so right?” The country ballad, “My Heart’s Killing Me," complete with mandolin and fiddle, is one of their lovelier-sounding tunes though quite different for them. But it’s not all gloomy as Chris can be found “Grinnin',” a keyboard-led R&B number, and although “Another Roadside Tragedy” is a downer as a title, it’s a tasty slice of cosmic boogie that will inspire your soul to dance.
Of course, a true Crowes fanatic would already have found these tracks, or alternate versions, on the Internet previously, but I doubt the quality sounds as good. If you enjoy rock ‘n’ roll, do yourself a favor and pick this set up.