Accomplished comeback by one of the finest blues-rock bands around
When in 2005 guitarist Marc Ford was convinced to rejoin his old band mates for a reunion tour it was certainly cause for celebration, because at last, the finest line-up of The Black Crowes was back finally, fully prepared to blow everyone away like they did in their glory days. Though after nearly two years on the road, and one superb live album later, Ford unexpectedly quit, followed by keyboardist Eddie Harsch soon after, forcing the band to bring in a couple of last minute replacements before eventually settling on Adam MacDougall and Luther Dickenson, on piano and guitar respectively. Which is a shame really, since Warpaint, their first studio album since 2001, would have benefited enormously had of Ford and Harsch stuck around long enough to contribute to what was already a quite considerable chemistry.
Things get off to a strong start with the intelligently titled “Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution”, a more than decent country-rock number and a style which the Crowes were masters of. The bluesy, slide heavy “Walk Believer Walk” doesn’t so much as walk but ineffectually crawl from out your speakers and across the living room floor, like some dying carnivore waiting to be put out of its misery. However that does not mean the track is without virtue entirely, containing as it does some of the earthiest, most grungy guitar playing this side of “Sometimes Salvation.”
“Oh Josephine” may be country-rock by numbers, in the vein of The Band, but a damn fine one at that, because it’s the sheer sincerity that draws the listener to it, due mainly to Chris Robinson’s mournful vocal delivery and lyrics which may or may not be concerned with his divorce from actress Kate Hudson. Towards the end the song just builds and continues building into the upper stratosphere, thanks to soaring guitars and church-like organ.
They attempt to re-create their youth on “Evergreen”, where the guitar playing is truly inspired, especially new recruit Dickenson, who plucks and plies his instrument like some demented demon intent on possessing the listener’s soul before dragging it down into Hades. The Stonesy “Wee Who See the Deep” is a sort of “Gimme Shelter” in slow motion, while the plaintively picturesque “Locust Street” paints a quietly depressing narrative that deserves to be re-heard.
If any elements of Exile On Main Street could be heard (or seen) through a psychedelic telescope it would probably sound something like “Movin’ On Down the Line,” a song which adds virtually nothing to Rock’s already significant encyclopaedia, however I’m not complaining, because the Crowes were always at their best when imitating their elders.
The band goes through the motions on the psych-rock-blues of “Wounded Bird” (an underrated tune if you ask me), get all down and filthy with the mums and dads blues-gospel “God’s Got It” (written by Reverend Charlie Jackson, someone I’ve never heard of, but ought to apparently if one is to call themselves a music critic), then go all quasi-hillbilly on “There’s Gold in Them Hills.” Now don’t put away your straw hat and overalls just yet, because closing the album is “Whoa Mule,” another American folk number which just might have the listener wanting to pan for gold.
Anyone expecting another Southern Harmony, or even Amorica must have no doubt raised an eyebrow or two. Although I guess it depends on who you talk to. My own opinion rests upon a point I made earlier, in that had Marc Ford and Eddie Harsch made their own contributions I’m sure that Warpaint might have proved to be far more superior to what is presented here. Which is not to say that there is in any way a lack of quality going on. That bands often run out of ideas and struggle to reassert themselves artistically after the first few albums is nothing new, nor unsurprising. While a fire had indeed been reignited, the flame was perhaps slightly less than bright than what had been presented in their younger years.
Nonetheless, Warpaint does not disappoint. As rock ‘n’ roll veterans, The Black Crowes had every right to raise the flag and continue the cause. As Robinson sings on final track, “We’re dirty but we’re dreaming.”
Four out of five for me.