Warpaint – The Black Crowes
Earlier this year, Maxim caught major hell when one of its album reviewers wrote about The Black Crowes first studio effort in seven years, minus the luxury of actually hearing it. While magazines, due to their early deadlines, normally receive copies of new releases months in advance of their street date, advance copies of the Crowes’ latest was being held on to more tightly than government secrets. Of course, it didn’t help that the critic viewed it as the same old same old. Listening to Warpaint, I can’t help but give a tip of the cap for the ability to see into the future. But really, did anybody outside of those working in a recording studio in Woodstock, where the album was recorded, expect something monumentally different? Led by the warring Robinson Brothers, the Black Crowes have built a specific musical foundation, relying on the blues, from its early 20th century roots and through its British disciples in the Rolling Stones and the Faces. Throw in a bit of 60s psychedelia and classic country. Stir, pour into a glass dish, and bake at 420 degrees for half an hour.
Like any recipe it receives the occasional tweak, but the group is what it is.
One could hear it fully realized on its sophomore effort, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion and, subsequently, worked to great effect on the tour to promote it. And despite the whims of the public going gaga over the Crowes’ debut yet being lukewarm to equally good releases such as Three Snakes and One Charm, By Your Side and Lions the band isn’t going to change all that much. The only thing that does matter is whether their hearts are fully into the proceedings and infuse the songs with enough energy and soul to make another trip back to the future a worthwhile endeavor. The live shows over the past couple years sparked renewed interest, but last year’s The Lost Crowes, featuring two discs of unreleased material, was a hit-and-miss affair because it lacked that spirit.
On Warpaint, the members certainly found that place again. Digging in their heels, the 11 songs feel like a brand new leather jacket, factory-made to look and feel as if its been weathered by years out on the highway of a perpetually traveling biker. Drummer Steve Gorman reintroduces himself with a brief pattern before the rest of the band kicks in on “Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution,” evoking thoughts of Beggars Banquet/Exile-era Stones, as does “Wee Who See the Deep” (verses only). And the band plows through the songs with all the enthusiasm of listening to those records for the first time as well as the confidence that they can pull off their own version of blues rock in the here and now. That pattern works throughout the first half of “Warpaint,” which when completed gives the impression that this is set up to mimic a Side A and Side B of a piece of vinyl. Hard blues marks “Walk Believer Walk,” while “Oh Josephine” shows off a softer side and should appease those wishing for another “She Talks To Angels.” Switch over to Side B and its innermost ode to the Band comes through on “Locust Street” and “Whoa Mule.” Country Blues makes an appearance on “God’s Got It” while they return to BluesRock on the scorching “Wounded Bird” and balladry with “There’s Gold in Them Hills.”
Because it starts heavy on the electric in the first half and goes in the opposite direction in the latter portion, Warpaint nearly falls apart by segregating its various directions. But, taken as a whole, as an announcement of a return, the damn thing works. Just like the formula has always done.