On a first listen (and yes, I did actually listen to it), I'm not really sure what to make of the new Black Crowes' record.
The good news here is that thankfully, the Robinson brothers seem to have recovered from that musical fog they were in during much of the mid-nineties. During those years, on albums like Amorica, it often seemed like the Black Crowes had lost their mojo. They couldn't seem to decide whether they wanted to be the modern day version of the Faces everybody knew and loved them for being — or something closer to a hippie jam band like the Grateful Dead.
So, that's the good news.
However, for fans yearning for a return to the commercial heyday of albums like Shake Your Money Maker and album-rock hits like "Hard To Handle," — well, sorry to burst your bubble. Warpaint isn't exactly a return to the arena rocking glory days of this band either.
Actually, Warpaint is the Black Crowes most distinctly southern sounding album to date. Make that southern, and relaxed as well. Which has to be something of a new experience for the Robinson brothers, two of the most famously feuding set of musical siblings this side of the Davies brothers in the Kinks, or the Gallaghers of Oasis.
Warpaint in fact, finds the Robinsons sounding uncharacteristically mellow. Oh, make no mistake, this record does rock. But there's a decidedly backporch, and dare I say, "down home" sort of quality about the songs on Warpaint. For the first time since as far back as The Southern Harmony And Musical Companion, the Black Crowes here also seem to have abandoned their Faces, Humble Pie, and Exile era Stones retro pretenses.
Well, almost anyway…
The slide guitar and laid back bluesy riffing of the opening "Goodbye Daughters Of The Revolution," certainly does recall parts of Exile, though it owes much more to songs like "Sweet Virginia" than to "Rocks Off" or "Tumblin' Dice." Okay, maybe there's just a touch of "All Down The Line" in there too, when Chris Robinson picks up the vocal intensity, and brother Rich responds in kind.
"Oh, Josephine" comes even closer to the spirit of Exile's more gospel influenced tracks, as Robinson sings the lyrics about "waiting for redemption" over a piano that could have come straight from Nicky Hopkins himself. Meanwhile, "God's Got It" sounds like nothing so much as the Black Crowes taking that same gospel and moving it from the pulpit to the dirty blues of "Shake Your Hips."
Things take an even darker turn on songs like "Walk Believer Walk," with a mix heavy on the organ and bass, particularly towards the end of the song when things take a bit of a detour towards jamland. On "Evergreen," that same heavy bass riffing also takes center stage, although Rich Robinson comes up with some equally filthy sounding guitar to match.
On "Wee Who See The Deep," Rich Robinson crafts a guitar riff that sounds suspiciously close to Chicago's FM rock classic "25 Or 6 To 4," although it's played at the sort of slow, muddy tempo you'd more closely associate with someone like Robin Trower. Add a great sounding vocal by Chris Robinson layered in harmonies and great, seventies sounding guitar effects, and you've got the closest thing to a single on the album.
At the end, Robinson even reaches up into a higher falsetto as the song fades with the catchy lyric "nowhere is nothing at all." The classic and adult rock stations out there that actually play new music should jump all over this one. Ditto for the equally riff-rocking "Wounded Bird."
On "Movin' On Down The Line," the Crowes embrace their inner-Zeppelin just a bit with an eerie sounding keyboard intro that recalls that band's "No Quarter," before settling into a downright funky groove revolving around the lyric "it's alright sisters, it's alright brothers, we all get down sometimes." That Exile influence sneaks back into the mix just a little here too, with the ever present slide guitars and harmonica adding a bluesier element.
Okay, so maybe the retro influences do continue to linger just a bit — this is the Black Crowes after all. Even so, on the distinctly down-home sounding Warpaint, the Black Crowes have recovered their musical mojo and rediscovered their own voice again.
It is a welcome return to form.