Saturday, August 15, 2009

August 15: The Black Crowes, "Shake Your Money Maker"

Artist: The Black Crowes
Album: Shake Your Money Maker
Year: 1990
Label: (Def) American


Often times, if a band plays perfectly, an absence of a groundbreaking sound makes little difference. During the period of musical limbo between the death of hair metal and the rise of grunge, countless amazing albums came out, and the musical landscape was as varied as any other point in history. Combining the sleazy-rock feel of the Rolling Stones with the feel good mood of the great Southern rock bands, The Black Crowes stormed on to the scene to prove that old fashioned rock and roll was not dead. The band was not out to re-invent the wheel, they simply took the music they loved and made their own version. The Black Crowes would later make some of the most fantastic jam-based Southern rock ever recorded, but in the early stages of their career, they were simply an extraordinary classic-rock-based band. Though they had been playing as a band for nearly a decade, The Black Crowes did not enter the studio until being singed by Rick Rubin's American Records in 1990. The resulting work was the groups' phenomenal debut album, 1990's Shake Your Money Maker.

Shake Your Money Maker is by far the bands' most commercially successful effort, as it spawned a number of singles, many of which still find regular rotation on radio stations. The most famous of all of these is the albums' third single, the bands' cover of Otis Redding's classic, "Hard To Handle." The song topped the charts in the U.S. as did the forth single, "She Talks To Angels." Along with top ten success from Shake Your Money Maker's first two singles, "Twice As Hard" and "Jealous Again" as well as the surprise top five charting of the albums' final single, "Seeing Things," the record itself sold over eight million copies and rose to the forth position in album sales. The success of the album also earned The Black Crowes the award for "Best New American Band" by the readers of Rolling Stone in 1990 (when the magazine still had musical integrity). Obviously, with nearly half of the songs on the album achieving this sort of success, the band was obviously doing something right, and that "something" was playing simple, straightforward, vintage rock and roll. Aside from the Redding cover, every song is a Crowes original, and this makes the fact that such a sensational batch of songs represent the groups' debut a testament to how amazing a group of musicians there are in The Black Crowes. One other interesting note about Shake Your Money Maker is the presence of engineer Brendan O'Brien, who would become one of the most highly sought after engineers throughout the grunge era, working within everyone from Pearl Jam to Rage Against The Machine to Stone Temple Pilots.

Musically, The Black Crowes represent the "classic" five-man rock configuration, with dual guitarists, bass, drums, and a vocalist. Lead guitarist and co-founder Rich Robinson stands as one of the most talented musicians of his generation, channeling Keith Richards as much as he does Angus Young. Creating superb tone and truly moving solos, there are few rock guitarists of his generation that have a similar level of musicianship and writing ability. Robinson's wire range of talent can be found in his short solo on "Hard To Handle" combined with the fact that he wrote the music for "She Talks To Angels" when he was only fifteen years old. Though only in the band for about three years, the guitar work of Jeff Cease is nothing short of perfect, and the chemistry between the two guitarists is undeniable as they play brilliantly off of one another. Bassist Johnny Colt spent nearly twenty years with The Black Crowes, and on Shake Your Money Maker, he brings an amazing gospel-esque rock funk to the songs. Appearing on the groups' first nine albums, drummer Steve Gorman remains one of the finest rock drummers in recent history. The keyboards and organs throughout the album are provided by Chuck Leavell, who spent much of the 1970's serving the same role for Southern rock icons, The Allman Brothers Band. The rhythmic grooves that Gorman and Colt assemble within nearly every song help to give the Crowes their distinctive style, and it makes the songs enjoyable and fresh nearly twenty years after their release.

In man ways, Chris Robinson was the exact opposite of every frontman from both the era before and after him. With a style and voice that were far too calm for the hair bands, yet too mellow and mainstream for grunge and alternative rock, Robinson's singing helped to keep The Black Crowes in their own category of music. First and foremost, Chris Robinson has one of the most wide ranging, powerful voices in the entire history of recorded music. Capable of hitting every not imaginable, his voice has a simple, honest tone, and he truly encompasses everything that makes the sound of "Southern rock" so great. While it is mostly rock and blues, there are times when Robinson's vocal delivery is almost more akin to gospel singing, as is highlighted during "Seeing Things." Regardless of the style in which he is singing, Robinson always has a fantastic swagger to his sound, and this is once again wonderfully reminiscent of the great rock singers, and it is one of the key aspects that makes the music so enjoyable. The songs found on Shake Your Money Maker similarly stick to the classic rock themes of women and enjoying life. While the albums' opening two songs present a brilliant juxtaposition ("Twice As Hard" and "Jealous Again"), there is honestly not a weak moment anywhere on the album, and the lyrics that are found on "She Talks To Angles" remain some of the most moving and mysterious ever written. While the music of The Black Crowes presents a fantastic homage to the golden age of rock music, it is the dynamic, unparalleled voice and delivery of Chris Robinson that catapults the group to the status of true music icons.

An overwhelming majority of the time, when bands attempt to revive a seemingly lost sound, they overdo the process and end up sounding more like a cover band, than a unique band playing an old sound. In the case of The Black Crowes, few bands in history have so perfectly captured the sound of "true" rock and roll, regardless of the generation. Fusing together top notch musical writing with perfect lyrics and the unparalleled vocal work of Chris Robinson, there has truly never been another band quite like The Black Crowes. Rich Robinson's stellar guitar work, and one of the tightest rhythm sections of their day enable the music to still resonate nearly two decades after it's release. Truth be told, there is not one song anywhere on Shake Your Money Maker that is anything short of spectacular, and the album perfectly represents a raw, no-frills rock and roll masterpiece. Though the group are now largely considered one of the greatest rock bands in history, it is very much due to their magnificent, stunning 1990 debut album, Shake Your Money Maker, that they are held in such deservingly high esteem.



Standout tracks: "Jealous Again," "Hard To Handle," and "She Talks To Angels."

1 comment:

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