written by Chris Familton
The Black Crowes were somewhat out of step with the times when they first emerged amid the hysteria of grunge in the early 90s. Their sound was traditional blues soaked American rock with flashes of gospel influence, southern rock and nods to americana and country. They really had little in common with the Pearl Jams and Nirvanas of the world but for some reason crossover did occur. Remedy was the flashpoint, a song that rattled and rolled and built with soul and fervor into an anthem of sorts. Chris Robinson filled the lithe frontman role perfectly with his skinny hips while sibling Rich was the silent guitar-slinger, the Keef to Chris’ Mick.
Fast forward nearly 20 years and the band is parting ways (again) to focus on other parts of their lives. As a parting gift they have released Croweology, a 20 track collection of songs re-recorded in a primarily acoustic or at least a laid-back rootsy manner.
The hits are present and in softer form than their original state. Remedy is reduced to a slow sway of a tune sounding closer to Blind Melon than the ballsy, testifying version from ’92. Two years prior they had released their big ballad in She Talks to Angels and it still holds up as one of their greatest and most genuinely heartfelt moments. On Croweology they add some fiddle and cascading acoustic guitar to the slow-burn drama without resorting to saccharine schmaltz. The epicness of the original is gone but replaced with a warmer intimacy.
The band are happy to mix things up and have some fun on racks like Share The Ride with a cheap drum machine and handclaps framing some wonderful slide guitar playing. It shows they aren’t leaving on a dour ‘unplugged’ note but rather a celebration of the joy of making music together.
There are moments when it feels like they never want the songs to end, highlighting the jam aesthetic of their playing. Ballad in Urgency and Wiser Time both push past 9 minutes in length. The former is a slow and sweet Hendrix-like tune while the latter is a swifter shuffle that allows space for a range of acoustic guitar and bass riffing.
The band includes a wonderful version of Gram Parson’s She, one of the great 60s west coast americana songs. They retain the sweetness of Parson and splash a small dose of sadness through the arrangement with glorious results. It is a clear nod to one of their influences and they perform it with sincerity and subtlety before injecting gospel blues singers into the final farewell track Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye.
The only gripe, which Black Crowes fans will see as a strength is the length of the release. Stretching to 2 hours over 2 discs it is a mammoth mission to sit through it all in one go. The acoustic framework adds to some sameness but taken in isolation the songs are impressively reverential in the way the band has approached them and woven in threads of gospel and country rather than settling for straight acoustic rock renderings.
Croweology is a nice way to end this chapter of The Black Crowes career and if it ends up being the last project the band release then it will serve as a highly valid epitaph to a band that were often out of step with musical fashions but nevertheless navigated their way through those foreign waters with the strength of their songs and their self belief.
this review first appeared on FasterLouder