Friday, April 12, 2013

SOTW - April 12, 2013 - Crowes in Spring

At some point, the rising flood of a river must give way to dry land. And so it was in the early 1990's that the The Black Crowes saved Rock and Roll.

By 1990, Hair Metal had subverted and perverted the Rock of the grand Stones tradition. The genre shifts ("Tommy") and historical fusion experiments (Let It Bleed) of the Golden Era had given way to an arms race to reach the most perfectly vapid party chorus ("Don't mean nothin', but a good time, how can I resist?!") draped with obnoxious wammy bar guitar antics ("Kickstart My Heart"). The only similarity between Hair Metal and the Golden Era was what went on backstage. The Motley Crues of the Hair world misread what their forbears told them; it wasn't all about the Party. Hair Metal garishly threatened to erase all of the musical gains made in the preceding 25 years. (Disclaimer 1: At the time, I loved Hair Metal. How could any teenager of the time not attach to it? It was pop and it was cool. Still, it was terrible music.)

Then, in 1991, the world shifted slightly on its axis. Nevermind. Ten. Grunge put Hair Metal quickly out of its misery. This was a flood that swept all in front of it musically. But, there was a problem. Like its uncle Punk, for all of its style and attitude, Grunge eschewed musicianship; its purveyors flaunted their lack of musical ability as an anti-Establishment bona fide. At least Hair Metal preserved the core element of the larger-than-life Rock Star. In the Grunge Era, to be a Star was a reason to kill oneself. It was the outright rejection of the time-honored link between Music and fame. Was anybody having fun? (Disclaimer 2: At the time, I loved Grunge. How could any teenager of the time not attach to it? It was pop and it was cool. Still, it was more an attitude and a style than a musical exposition.)

In this transitional malestrom, a lone candle burned. Ignoring the storm outside, two brothers from Marietta, Georgia looked backwards and drew inspiration from the Masters. Like the Beatles and Stones before them, Chris and Rich Robinson and their Black Crowes hitched their wagon to a few R&B standards, threw some of their own brand of Rock in the back, and rode straight out of Atlanta, GA to Glory. Who needed black plastic cod pieces? Corduroy bell bottoms were more comfortable. As their world embraced studded leather and then flannel, they showed up in velvet and round shades and took the place over. They were an enigma, but they had the chops to make it stick. The world soon took note.

1990's Shake Your Money Maker staked a definitive piece of Classic Rock turf in what was still a Hair world. It was like Keith Richards had called his hippie nephews, sent them a box of old Blues albums, and told them to go and reclaim the family turf from those who were desecrating it. We all know "Hard to Handle" and "She Talks to Angels," but the blistering piano boogie of "Jealous Again" (thanks, Chuck Leavell) and coming-of-age Soul shot of "Seeing Things" showed that the Crowes believed history's lessons. To hear the album now is to marvel at its concept relative to the norms of the day. Three million people agreed. It was the first CD I ever owned, and I still remember the cardboard longbox sitting under the family Christmas tree in 1990 right next to my first Sony Discman.

By September of 1992, Grunge ruled the world, with the exception of the Crowes, that is. Rejecting the self-absorption and depression of Grunge, they doubled down on their good times brand of Rock and lit a post-hippie fire that gave the burgeoning "jam" scene pop credibility. From some genius corner of their smoke-fogged minds, they reached far back into history and borrowed the greatest album title your writer ever heard from the title of an old hymnal: The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion. They then attached to said title a masterful collection of Southern Fried Country Honk Brit Rock that fit the 1992 Georgia Coastal Plain like a custom glove. (Grunge never quite sounded right whilst camping at Reeves' Landing next to the Flint River; The Southern Harmony left our 17 year-old minds no doubt as to where its loyalties laid.) Bare feet became more common in my peer group and "dude" re-entered the vernacular after Southern Harmony landed at the old Music Mart on 16th Avenue.

Money Maker producer George Drakoulious and engineer Brendan O'Brien assembled the album with an unpolished two-channel sound that evokes the days when blues masters could not afford multiple takes and everything was recorded live-in-studio. The soaring B-3 river flow of "Thorn in My Pride" and the impossibly punchy roadhouse Gospel of "Remedy" are the albums finest songs, but your Song of the Week for April 12, 2013 is a deep track slide scorcher that serves as a late album peak before the mellow departure of Bob Marley's "Time Will Tell." The jet-powered opening riff and verse chorus of "My Morning Song" give way to a spacey bridge that slowly soars right back into the chorus's grabbing directive: "Kiss me baby, on Easter Sunday day. Make my haze blow away!"

. . . And so the grand tradition of Rock was preserved and the torch passed on to a new generation (enter everyone from the Kings of Leon to the Drive By Truckers). It remained cool to be Southern and chill and deferential to those that came before, while still reserving the right to kick open the door and declare the place yours.  

My Morning Song by The Black Crowes on Grooveshark

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