Retro rockers come up with their own Exile On Main Street for the 90’s
Rolling Stones references aside, The Black Crowes had a style and swagger all their own, enough to make them one of the more authentic rock groups getting around in the early ‘90s. And while grunge was on the ascent, the Crowes proved themselves capable of delivering an album that was bursting with the blues, not to mention a mountain of soul. The Southern Harmony And Musical Companion, the band’s sophomore LP was recorded in a mere seven days, something which was almost unheard of at the time, however having spent 19 months on the road, promoting their first record, the mega-selling Shake Your Money Maker, and recruiting guitarist Marc Ford, had done wonders for the band in terms of experience and confidence. And while Chris Robinson may have sung like Steve Marriot and moved like Mick Jagger (moves which Jagger himself had stolen from other singers), The Black Crowes don’t so much as imitate their idols but rather act as if nothing ever happened after 1973.
The album kicks off with “Sting Me”, a song which would have fitted nicely alongside anything on Humble Pie’s Smokin’, with its dirty, down to earth riffs and Robinson’s raspy vocals. Ford delivers a stinging guitar solo mid section, notching up the group’s energy levels a few hundred feet, as he also does on popular single “Remedy”, a tune so good that the listener will want to press the replay button. Because as far as blues-rock tunes go, “Remedy” is about as near perfect as it gets. The hippie-rock of “Thorn In My Pride” is another classic track, one with plenty of yearning soulful vocals, organ, gospel backing, and of course Ford and Rich Robinson’s organic guitar attack.
They turn down the lamps and turn up the heartache on the bluesy “Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye”, before finding redemption on the gritty “Sometimes Salvation”, a song which simply has illicit drugs oozing from out of every groove. The road weary “Hotel Illness”, despite its subject matter, should revive the party after the previous dirge, while “Black Moon Creeping” is just that, a track brimming with ambience and blistering guitars. Headbangers will rejoice on “No Speak No Slave”, a sort of Stones/Zeppelin hybrid that would make either band proud.
Now every album needs an epic, and “My Morning Song” is exactly that, over six minutes of dynamic vocals and soaring guitar solos. It’s certainly a rousing number, and one which builds to a final soulful climax. Last song, a cover of Bob Marley’s “Time Will Tell” is a somewhat peculiar choice, but strangely works, in its own unusual way, as if they wanted to establish their reputation as one of Rock’s largest consumers of leaf. This is where Chris Robinson resembles Steve Marriot the most, reaching for the high notes after a couple of bongs and a few whiskies.
The remastered edition comes with two bonus tracks, an outtake of “Sting Me”, played at a slower tempo, and “99 Pounds”, one of those solid meat and potatoes rockers not too many modern bands are capable of writing.
Although grunge was the word, The Black Crowes had by now established themselves as one the pre-eminent blues-rock bands of the day. At last, here was a bunch of musicians determined to kick out the synths and let instruments sound like real instruments. Yes the Crowes were nostalgic, almost sentimental even, in the way they played, but that doesn’t translate into a lack of urgency nor honesty in what they were doing. The Southern Harmony And Musical Companion is as real as rock ‘n’ roll gets, whether by the Stones, Small Faces, or early Rod Stewart, and that, ladies and gentlemen, is all one can hope for.