Online since August 2002

Coming back strong

Reviewed March 2008

By Black Crowes

Silver Arrow: 2008

To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.

The Black Crowes are back.

After a seven-year hiatus from studio releases, "Warpaint" represents a worthy addition to the body of work begun with the multiplatinum "Shake Your Moneymaker" )1990). After four subsequent releases – the most noteworthy being "The Southern Musical and Harmony Companion," the superior followup to "Moneymaker" and 1994's triumph "Amorica," arguably their best work – the group in 2001 took an indefinite break and their core following has been limited to two live CDs and a collection of alternate takes and otherwise unreleased middle period tunes put out as "Lost Crowes" in 2006.

Chris Robinson, whose early-Paul Rodgers-meets-Rod Stewart vocals have given the band its identity, is in great voice throughout. Also back is the familiar instrumental template of early '70s Stones/Faces slide and rough-edged guitars in both channels, keyboards and prominent drums. With the opener and first single, "Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution," it is clear that the band has picked up right where it left off. This straight-ahead rocker is one of several on the disc that benefits from the addition of Luther Dickinson, from the North Alabama All-Stars, to accompany Rich Robinson (Chris' brother) on guitar. His slide playing evokes that of Mick Taylor on "Exile"-period Rolling Stones albums, one reason why the disc's second cut, "Walk Believer Walk" brings to mind the tune "Ventilator Blues" from that landmark Stones disc. Another favorable comparison can be made between the Stones' "Casino Boogie" and "God’s Got It," a muscular gospel-blues cover written by a Rev. Charlie Jackson.

The disc lacks a bullet-fast rocker (the superb "Daughters" comes closest), but the best tunes are several bluesy rock songs that include "Movin' on Down the Line," "Evergreen" and perhaps the best, "Wounded Bird." The latter two in particular recall the range and song structure of the strongest cuts on "Amorica." "Wounded Bird" takes flight with inspired slide guitar and upbeat lyrics – especially compared to the dark mood of many of the other songs:

Can you taste the poison in your mouth
feel the weight of these chains?
asks Robinson in "Walk Believer Walk."

They miss the mark with "Wee Who See the Deep," an attempt at a power-chord driven anthem that sounds like a weak reworking of their excellent "Remedy" from their second disc. After two ballad-heavy outings, the disc has less slow material than the uneven 2001 disc "Lions," on which the ballads were the best songs. This time out, "Oh, Josephine" is forgettable, and while "There's Gold in Them Hills" fares better, it is placed after the rousing "Bird" and the pounding "God's Got It." "Locust Street" is a bit more brisk, and features excellent mandolin and guitar work by both Rich Robinson and Dickinson.

"Warpaint" features some of the best studio work in several outings by the band. The production and mixing by Paul Stacey are excellent, the layered sound bringing out a full sound without the horns that cluttered the weak "By Your Side" or the sloppy sound of many of the cuts on "Lions." Though the overall sound is, like their earlier material, a trip back to 1973, there are no long jam tunes and the instrumental work is tasteful (attributing the guitar solos and lyrics would have been a plus). This smooth new mixture may actually put off some of the core audience that likes the band's edgy approach, but it helps this disc sound better on repeated listenings. Clearly, "Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution" is a strong single, and "Evergreen" and "Wounded Bird" seem like good candidates for a follow-up.

This ranks as not only a solid comeback, but better than the last two studio discs, and at least, if not slightly above, on the level of "Three Snakes and One Charm," their 1996 release which featured the singles "Good Friday" and "Blackberry." It's clear that after all these years in hiatus, the Crowes still rock, and have come back strong.

Review by Frank Kocher, a longtime San Diego resident, musician, music collector and frequent contributor to The San Diego Troubadour.

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