Sweet Pickle Salad

Dark, depressing, still unreleased side-project by Crowes frontman

In 1993, with The Black Crowes in a seemingly never-ending spiral of friction and inner turmoil, Chris Robinson (vocals) and Marc Ford (guitar) took some time out to begin sessions for what is collectively known as Sweet Pickle Salad. Joining them in the studio was Craig Ross (guitar), Roger Manning (keyboards), Jimmy Ashurst (bass) and Andy Sturmer (drums), for what would prove to be a couple of days of partying and serious recording.

Ashurst described the recordings thus: “With Sweet Pickle Salad (Chris) had some songs he’d written on his own that he wanted to record, and we happened to be the people he was spending most of his time with anyway, so he booked some studio time and we recorded four or five songs of his songs and it was a blast! We all had a great time playing that stuff and the performances by everyone were pretty amazing – especially considering how f- up we all were at the time. I don’t think any of us ever even considered the possibility of it ever being released… the Black Crowes were (and are) one of our generation’s best and most significant bands, and nobody involved would have wanted to be a part of anything that would have upset the sometimes delicate relationship between those two brothers. It’s a pretty cool thing to have been a part of it though.”

Chris himself talked about the music: “The songs sound like a cross between CSNY and Pink Floyd: every song is 10 minutes long.” Chris was in no way exaggerating. SPS is indeed a dark, atmospheric, and at times even downright spooky collection of tunes, and far moodier than much of what The Black Crowes themselves had been working on (with the exception of tracks like “Title Song,” for example).

“One Man’s Anger” is the morose blues-rock opener (at least on my copy), and a perfect introduction to the little world Chris Robinson and his fellow cohorts were obviously intent on creating, where the guitars fuse brilliantly together along with superb vocal/instrumental backing. Throughout pretty much everyone’s in the pocket, and one can clearly hear that on “Clothes And Food” (sometimes referred to as “Cry To Me Softly”), a track that definitely reminds this listener of what Pink Floyd, The Allman Brothers and CSNY might have sounded like had they have chosen to collaborate in the early ‘70s.

“Limits” and final track “State of the Nation” are in equal measure inspired crazed blues rockers so impeccably played and recorded that it’s incredible to think that such accomplished music as this was polished off in a mere couple days.

If and when these sessions are ever dusted off and given the full remastering they deserve remains to be seen. Clearly Robinson, busy touring and recording with his band CRB, is in no hurry to revisit the vaults any time soon. A pity, since Sweet Pickle Salad is as fine as anything he recorded with The Black Crowes when the group was in its prime.

Until then, this ‘authorized bootleg’ is about as good as it gets.