Great artists need a certain lack of self-awareness. It’s what allows them to be brave and bold.
The Black Crowes lack self-awareness. Their brilliant debut, Shake Your Money Maker, was Rolling Stones-influenced rock and roll that brought 1970s swagger into the 1990s. While the album was a commercial hit, critics vilified the band for sounding too much like the Stones (featuring Stones’ keyboardist Chuck Leavell on so much of their debut, while the correct artistic choice, didn’t help with the Stones comparisons). The Black Crowes couldn’t hide the sonic similarities, but capturing the spirit of the Stones isn’t an easy task. Otherwise, more bands would have done it sooner. The Black Crowes just made it look easy.
The band, led by brothers Chris Robinson (vocals) and Rich Robinson (guitar) was already volatile enough, but the comparisons put the Black Crowes into a tailspin. Maybe they would have been at war with the world and each other anyway, but after Shake Your Money Maker they always seemed on edge personally, while also managing to expand their sound, trying to avoid comparisons to anyone else, but especially the Stones. And that intentional positioning made them an even better band. Because whatever you think of the Brothers Robinson, you can’t deny the quality of their music.
10. “Wee Who See the Deep”
This track from 2008’s Warpaint has a huge groove. The background vocals give it a glam feeling, but the piano and guitar root it in classic blues rock. Luther Dickinson, of the North Mississippi Allstars, joined the band for this album, adding some searing lead guitar.
9. “(Only) Halfway to Everywhere”
This track, off of Three Snakes And One Charm features the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. The Crowes aren’t known for their horn work (although there’s a radio mix of “Hard to Handle” which features a horn section). It’s a funky, rocking tune that doesn’t sound like the Black Crowes, except for Robinson’s distinctive voice. But it’s a cool track showing a band willing to depart from their own formula.
8. “Sometimes Salvation”
This low-key ballad, off of their sophomore The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion would have fit right in on Shake Your Money Maker. It’s a beautiful vocal melody backed by crunchy guitars and showed that no matter what the critics said, they could never abandon their signature sound. Which is a good thing.
7. “A Conspiracy”
A funky single off of 1994’s Amorica, it’s a relentless groove and enough catchy sections to create at least three other songs. The song is too much in the best possible way.
6. “Hey, Hey What Can I Do”
The Black Crowes have a lot of influences, but Led Zeppelin doesn’t necessarily jump to the top of the list. So it was interesting that they released a live album of Zeppelin tunes backing no less than the legendary Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page. Live at the Greek is a phenomenal album, the band tight and Robinson managing to find his own take on the iconic songs of another band. Sadly, contractual issues meant the album didn’t feature any Black Crowes songs, a real shame.
5. “No Use Lying”
This track off of 2001’s Lions is one of the Black Crowes’ trippier songs. While it’s not quite psychedelic, it veers close to the genre. It’s an atypical track that shows a band unafraid to take risks.
4. “Kickin’ My Heart Around”
This track, off of By Your Side, is one of the Crowes’ heavier/greasier tunes, Robinson singing more like Rod Stewart than Mick Jagger. The drums are practically punk and the slide guitar courtesy of brother Rich, who handled all of the album’s guitars, is perfectly ragged.
Another expansive Southern Harmony track that showed a band running from the Rolling Stones tag into broader 1970s rock. You can imagine this tune, with its brilliant electric piano hooks, working in the hands of Santana, even as Robinson seemingly taunts the critics with especially Jagger-esque vocals.
2. “She Talks to Angels”
This beautiful acoustic ballad, off of Shake Your Money Maker is not just the prettiest song ever written by the Black Crowes, but is an all-time gorgeous rock ballad.
1. “Hard to Handle”
Another track from Money Maker, a great album. On the one hand, it seems unfair to choose a cover when they’ve written so many great songs. But the song defines the band, so much so, that many people didn’t realize this is an Otis Redding tune.