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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

CD Review: The Black Crowes - Warpaint Live

The Black Crowes - Warpaint Live
2009 Silver Arrow Records/Eagle Rock Entertainment
Ray Van Horn, Jr.



If there's one band who has matured into unsung heroes of American rock, it's the Black Crowes. Perhaps saturation of their bankable cover tune "Hard to Handle" inadvertently led to disinterest from the collective rock fans who helped elevate the Crowes to superstardom, or maybe it was their brief disbanding which did them in as far as the public eye was concerned.

Despite a brutal tabloid-heaving divorce from his former Hollywood wife Kate Hudson, Chris Robinson and the Black Crowes emerged from their past wreckage like a veritable flock of Phoenix. If anything, Chris Robinson has bravely revealed his scar tissue simply through his powerful vocals which have lost their youthful zest and turned into something grizzled yet far more emotional.

As the Black Crowes might as well be thought of as what The Rolling Stones could've been had they not flushed themselves down the toilet during the eighties and nineties (and had Brian Jones not passed from this life), the resurrection of the former is a definitive statement of rebound and recovery from past adversity.

The Crowes are now so far beyond the Stones (yeah, I said it) it's a night and day statement if you put up the Crowes' The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion along with their most recent work including last year's Warpaint. Okay, sure, Goat's Head Soup and Aftermath probably move more units even today, yet despite Aftermath being the Stones' most volatile and overall impressive release, what the Black Crowes have achieved as their acolytes is borne from other external influences, making them a superior band.

Rock, gospel, soul, southern drag, blues, bare shades of metal, it's all in there with the Black Crowes and following their outstanding Warpaint album comes a new double disc concert documentary, Warpaint Live.

Arguably the Black Crowes are a better live band than a studio one and there's not much to dissuade from stating they don't release outstanding to at least above-average albums. This is why Warpaint Live, an album which features virutally no past hits and which conveys the entire Warpaint album from start-to-finish along with an encore disc of older true fan material is cream for your rock 'n roll coffee cup.

With a cumbersome audio feed, Warpaint Live frequently sounds heavier and more bombastic than the original source, particularly "Evergreen," "Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution" and "Wounded Bird." With Sven Pipen, Rich Robinson and Luther Dickinson booming, twanging. wa-waing and peeling behind Chris Robinson and Adam MacDougall laying down church-wailing organs, Warpaint Live throbs with such tuneful and skin-torn cohesion you can't help but get absorbed. Steve Gorman is a force on the skins with steady pulses and constantly straying rolls which always snap right back to the rhythm. His percussion on "Whoa Mule" is also a snappy compliment to Chris Robinson's wheatfield-swept harmonica.

The second disc offers up six non-Warpaint cuts such as Exile on Mainstreet's "Torn and Frayed," Southern Harmony's "Bad Luck, Blue Eyes," and their Moby Grape cover "Hey, Grandma."

All good, all deeper extracted than dishing out a mere hits-splashed set, and when you get their country-lounge-soul ballad "There's Gold in Them Hills" from Warpaint, you come to the realization the Black Crowes can do damn near anything they set out to. It is also an undeniable statement piece of a group having reached their utmost capacities as musicians who nearly threw it all away.

Rating: ****1/2

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