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The Black Crowes

The Black Crowes

The Black Crowes echo classic rock without imitating their influences -- they don't replicate the insistent swagger of the Rolling Stones, the drunken boogie of the Faces, or the funky chug of the Grateful Dead so much as give the resulting brew their own flavors. The interplay between the brothers Robinson, vocalist Chris and guitarist Rich, gives the band some extra tension and they play with a fiery tightness their heroes often didn't. They hit the ground running with their first two albums -- 1990's Shake Your Money Maker, with its revved-up cover of the Otis Redding song "Hard to Handle," and 1992's The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion -- scaling the upper reaches of the charts. As the years rolled on, the group loosened up a bit and embraced the jammier side of the classic rock equation, before splitting (for the first time) in 2002. They would continue to regroup and breakup over the years, playing reunion shows and making albums, including 2008's politically charged Warpaint. After half-a-decade of not speaking, they patched things up in 2020, releasing the covers EP 1972, touring, and curating reissues of their early albums. In 2024, they returned with their first studio album in 15 years, the swagging hard rock throwback Happiness Bastards.

The Robinson brothers originally formed the band, calling it Mr. Crowe's Garden, in Georgia in 1984. They started off heavily influenced by psychedelic rock and jangle pop, but gradually evolved into something more indebted to greasy, good-time rock & roll. By the time they released their debut album, 1990's Shake Your Money Maker, the lineup comprised vocalist Chris Robinson, guitarist Rich Robinson, bassist Johnny Colt, guitarist Jeff Cease, and drummer Steve Gorman. The strutting "Jealous Again," the first single from Shake Your Money Maker, established the band's mix of hooks and attitude, but it was their cover of Otis Redding's "Hard to Handle" that made the Black Crowes a multi-platinum success. The song climbed its way into the Top 40, propelling the album into the Top Ten along the way. The acoustic ballad "She Talks to Angels" became their second Top 40 hit in the spring of 1991. Along the way, the group's notoriety and fame grew in equal measure as they were booted off a tour with ZZ Top (for bad mouthing the corporate sponsor) and earned an opening slot on the Monsters of Rock tour.

Guitarist Cease left the band before the recording of their second album began, he was replaced by Marc Ford. Working again with producer George Drakoulias, who had done much in the past to help the band hone their sound, their second album, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, was released in early 1992 and entered the charts at number one. Featuring vintage keyboard work from another new member, Eddie Harsch, the album deepened the grooves found on their debut and featured a heavier guitar attack along with even more confident vocals from Chris Robinson. The album's songs didn't have the same impact on the singles chart this time around, but the band established itself as a popular concert attraction, selling out theaters across America. Once back in the studio they commenced work on their third album, Tall, but ended up shelving it in favor of the more relaxed, jam band-adjacent Amorica, which arrived in late 1994 and debuted in the Top Ten. It was the first of their albums produced by Jack Joseph Puig, and he was back at the helm for 1996's Three Snakes and One Charm, which was recorded in Atlanta in a house the band rented and lived in during the sessions. The record had a looser feel and horns courtesy of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. During this time, animosity between the Robinson brothers started to influence their way of operating, as they were living on separate coasts and sent their song ideas to each other instead of working together in person. The end result proved strong, though, and was hailed by many as a return to their early form.

The Crowes' lineup took a hit in late 1997 when Ford was fired and Colt left to form the Brand New Immortals. With Rich Robinson handling all guitar parts, the band recorded and released By Your Side, a tough, hard-rocking album that stripped their sound down to the basics. Next up was a collaboration with one of their heroes, Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page. This partnership was captured on the concert album Live at the Greek, a mix of Zeppelin covers and classic blues cuts. The band took a breath in 2000 and issued Greatest Hits 1990-1999: A Tribute to a Work in Progress, a 16-track best-of that took stock of their career to date. When they got back to business, they enlisted Don Was to produce 2001's Lions, a record that reflected their kaleidoscopic vision of rock's history and sported lyrics that were influenced by Chris Robinson's relationship with actress Kate Hudson. A month-long summer tour with Oasis -- dubbed the "Tour of Brotherly Love" due to the prevalence of less-than-friendly siblings in both bands -- followed in June. All was apparently not well with the group, and the band announced its decision to go on hiatus in January 2002. Drummer Steve Gorman was fired, and Chris Robinson began planning a solo career. It was Rich Robinson who was first out of the gate with a solo project, though, releasing Paper in 2004. In 2005, however, the Black Crowes, including Ford on guitar, reunited for a show at San Francisco's Fillmore that was released as Freak 'N' Roll...Into the Fog in 2006. That year also saw the release of The Lost Crowes, which contained two previously unreleased albums, 1993's Tall (parts of which were heard on Amorica) and the 1997 never-before-heard Band. Following a series of lineup changes that included Harsch and Ford's departure, the retooled band hit the road for a proper tour before setting to work on its first studio effort in seven years. Joined by newcomer Luther Dickinson, guitarist and co-founder of the North Mississippi Allstars, the Black Crowes combined the rootsy appeal of their early work with a newfound political awareness on 2008's Warpaint. A live performance of the album, Warpaint Live, appeared a year later in 2009. Before the Frost...Until the Freeze, which was recorded live at Levon Helm's studio and saw the band delving into disco and cosmic folk, arrived that same year, marking the band's eighth studio effort and garnering warm reviews.

The Black Crowes continued their prolific streak with 2010's Croweology, a double-disc album that featured new acoustic recordings of the band's past work. The album's release was bittersweet, though, as it coincided with a farewell tour followed by another indefinite hiatus. Rich Robinson released his second solo album, Through a Crooked Sun, in 2011 and Chris released two albums with his new band, the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, in 2012. The Crowes returned to life in 2013, undertaking a tour and releasing the live album Wiser for the Time on vinyl. In January 2015, Rich Robinson announced the band was breaking up. Again.

The Robinson brothers spent five years apart -- during which they never spoke or saw each other -- and each released a solo album and toured before gingerly reuniting once more in 2020 with a new Black Crowes lineup (guitarist Isaiah Mitchell, bassist Tim Lefebvre, keyboardist Joel Robinow, and drummer Raj Ojha) for a tour celebrating the 30th anniversary of their debut album Shake Your Money Maker. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the tour was postponed until 2021, as was a deluxe reissue of Shake Your Money Maker. Things went well enough that the band decided to record again, and the following year saw the release of the EP 1972, a set of six newly recorded covers from the epochal year done in classic Crowes style. The band continued to play live shows and cycle through members, with bassist Sven Pipien returning to the fold. In 2023, the group released a live album, Shake Your Money Maker Live, and a deluxe edition of The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion that included previously unreleased live-in-the-studio tracks. During this time, they were working on an album with producer Jay Joyce, digging back into the inspirations that had launched the band and aiming for a suitably tough, swaggering sound. The resulting Happiness Bastards album was released in early 2024, and along with a batch of wall-rattling rockers it featured "Wilted Rose," a country-spiked ballad featuring backing vocals by Lainey Wilson. After the album's release, the band launched a year-long world tour. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine & Tim Sendra

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