Tuned In To Music

Reflections from a lifetime

Review: The Black Crowes, Warpaint

When the Black Crowes released their first album “Shake Your Money Maker” in 1990 their style of Rolling Stones influenced Southern rock/boogie stood out as being in sharp warpaintcontrast to the types of music that were popular at the time.  Driven by their cover of Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle” the album was a great success.  Subsequent albums tended to enter the charts at high positions and then drop out of sight fairly rapidly.  The Crowes were a popular concert act but after their initial album they weren’t as successful breaking singles.  The core of the band were brothers Chris (vocals) and Rich (guitar) Robinson.  I’m guessing they were difficult to work with as the band was pretty much a revolving door for support players for the two brothers until they finally announced they were “taking a break” in early 2002.  The band resurfaced with a live CD and DVD combo “Freak N Roll . . . Into the Fog” in 2006.  “Warpaint” is their first studio album in seven years.

The album has a strong opening in”Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution” the kind of rollicking boogie rock number the Crowes are known for.  Second track “Walk Believer Walk” is geared down and greasy blues rock.  Ballad “Oh Josephine” follows which sounds like the Crowes trying to do The Band.  On the whole “Warpaint” is a solid set of blues/rock/boogie that doesn’t quite catch fire.  These guys are professional musicians who know how to play this music, play it well, and are not coming on like a nostalgia act doing their hits from back in the day.  I’m sure they wanted to come out roaring after their long time away but to my ears they fall just a little bit short.  “Warpaint” is not a bad album by any means, it just doesn’t have the power I had hoped for after listening to “Freak N Roll” which has more than its share of raw excitement.

There is an oddity to the lyrics for some of the songs on “Warpaint” that might escape notice but once you tune in to it it’s glaring.  With one exception, all the music is attributed to the Robinson brothers and whoever is responsible for the lyrics fell into a rut.  Pretty much every up-tempo number ends with Chris Robinson repeating a word or refrain repeatedly.  On “Goodbye Daughters of the Revlution” we get five repeats, “Evergreen” ends with four, “Wee (sic) Who See the Deep” gets seven, “Movin’ On Down the Line” gets five, and finally “Wounded Bird” gets eight!  By this time you’re desperately wishing they’d get another idea.  Repeating  a short vocal line through the out choruses is an effective technique but not when you do it every song.  If it’s an up-tempo tune and Chris Robinson starts repeating himself, you know the end of the song is just around the corner.

“Warpaint” has aroused a good deal of anticipation because the North Mississippi All Stars’ Luther Dickinson appears on the album playing slide guitar.  Dickenson is a major talent and many were eager to hear how he’d sound with the Crowes.  He sounds great and his playing is consistently one of the high points on the album.  Moreover, Dickenson and the rest of the group have melded so smoothly you’d think he’d been in the band from day one.  That’s not easy to do but these musicians make it sound effortless.  The hook-up is a complete success. 

Having said that, I hope Dickenson isn’t planning on moving away from NMA because for all that the Crowes sound great with him, the interplay among Dickenson, his brother Cody (drums) and Chris Chew (bass) as evidenced on NMA’s recent “Hernando” is even tighter.  Which isn’t surprising, really, as NMA has been playing together for a long time now.  I also have to say that listening to the fine interplay between Dickenson and the rest of the Crowes made me think that if Dickenson’s going to play outside NMA, I would really like to hear him play with Gov’t Mule’s Warren Haynes.  How about going completely off the Deep End with a live multi-disc CD that includes a set from Dickenson and Haynes backed by NMA, a set backed by Gov’t Mule, and a set with everybody playing together?

While “Warpaint” isn’t the rip-roaring triumphant return I was hoping for, it’s plusses more than outweigh it’s minuses.  It’s more than good enough to make me hope they keep it together and continue with the second phase of their career.  Fans of the original band aren’t going to want to miss “Warpaint”, fans of NMA will enjoy hearing Luther Dickinson in this setting,  and anyone interested in well played Southern boogie-rock will probably find much to like here. 


03/15/2008 - Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews

1 Comment »

  1. I have to slightly disagree with you on your review. I think Warpaint is a very strong album, and it was worth the wait. I’ve been a Crowes fan since 1990, and I’ve seen them live many times. Regarding repetitive lyrics, have you ever listened to blues and folk songs? The Robinson brothers are influenced by those genres. If you want lyrical intricacy with little repeating refrains, listen to Bob Dylan. Luther sounds great on slide guitar, and you didn’t mention Rich and Chris’s long time friend Sven, who is a relatively new addition. The Crowes are not a nostalia act, you are right on that; they are still writing and performing excellent new songs which will be classics in their own right. Just like the Grateful Dead (another inspiration of Chris’s), the Crowes are not meant for mass consumption. Their audience consists of lovers of blues-based Americana freak ‘n roll. Warpaint totally rocks, and I don’t find one bad song on it.

    Comment by Barbara Hynes | 04/08/2008 | Reply

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