What’s really tragic about freelance critic David Peisner’s review of the new Black Crowes album has nothing to do with his ignorance of the post-review 2.5 stars that Maxim assigned to the album. There’s also less travesty in the fact that he did not hear the album in its entirety before reviewing it than in the reality: this man has absolutely no ears. Here’s what he had to say about what little he heard of the album, probably from the short clips on the Crowes’ website:
First of all, it was a neat trick. So neat, in fact, that every hip-hop artist and acoustic neo-soul act in the record store these days wants to pull off a similarly retro-hip tactic that the Crowes did with their debut. Moreover, Mr. Peisner (boy do I hope you read this), any reviewer worth the bullshit that rolls off his tongue and onto the page next to Maxim’s mindless T and A ought to know that every artist brings a combination of their influences into forming their own voice.
Now, while I have no doubt that Chris Robinson and the gang have as many musical debts as the next artist, those tips of the hat do not and could not sound “pretty much like they always have.” What was clearest to me even after the first time through Warpaint is that these guys have spent the last sixteen years since their Southern Harmony and Musical Companion listening to a lot of classic country and blues records. While some of those were likely the same records that inspired the likes of Brian Jones, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, and the Allmans, the same could be said of virtually every jazz and blues musician since Muddy Waters.
The opening cut on the record, “Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution,” only seems less likely to be a hit than, say, “She Talks to Angels” because it’s too rock to fit on any country station and too honky-tonk to work very well for straight-ahead rock radio. But by the time the chorus rolls around, the Crowes’ Southern Rock charm is dripping from the speakers. As they follow up with “Walk Believer Walk,” it’s very clear just how much lowdown dirty blues they’ve heard since their last record.
So far as songwriting goes, the heartwrenching “Oh Josephine” works as well as anything else they’ve ever written, including “She Talks…” though it’s sung with a bit more stinging knowledge of love lost and life on the road. As they “let it all ride” at the end of this tune, the guitar vamp and organ solo let you know that there’s still hope out there for a grizzled and tired out lover.
“Evergreen” has the sound of something Cream or Hendrix may as well have written, and its satisfying triple meter chorus more than adequately prefaces a second verse lyric that invites this Evergreen to “come dance in my rain.” “Wee who see the deep” is so clearly indebted to Chicago’s “Twenty Five or Six to Four” in its opening guitar vamp that it brings the Southern into the Psychedelic with an ease that only the Crowes can pull off. The out of tune patina on the string introduction to “Locust Street,” however, reminds a listener that we’re still thoroughly in Southern Rock territory here.
“Wounded Bird,” of all the other cuts on the album, sounds the most like a classic Crowes track with the possible exception of “Oh Josephine.” The upbeat new-jack groove that Steve Gorman lays down on the drums feels great with the guitar/organ anthem that the band lays down for Chris and Rich Robinson to harmonize. As Gorman’s grooves go, only the gospel shuffle of the next cut, “God’s Got It,” can compete.
My only complaint about this record is that “There’s Gold in Them Hills” and “Whoa Mule” make it seem like the Robinson boys are trying too hard to sound country. The sublime “Here Comes Daylight” more than makes up for it, though, and along with the rest of a solid record, it’s tough to be too hard on the Crowes for that. Besides, who knows? Maybe they really are more country than they’ve let on before.
All things considered, the organ and dobro make this record at once as soulful and as rural as Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals‘ recent Lifeline, and with songwriting that rivals Harper’s as well. I don’t want to take anything away from Harper because I really liked that record, but since it’s been out a while and I probably won’t review it here, let’s just call that a compliment for the Crowes.