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Album review: Black Crowes' 'Before the Frost'

August 31, 2009 |  6:28 pm
Crowes Mainstream rock acts such as veteran Atlanta outfit the Black Crowes typically find better fortune on the road than on the sales charts, so it's no surprise that in the last decade brothers Chris and Rich Robinson have focused more on the live experience -- both in performance and releasing recordings of various concerts -- than sequestering themselves away in a studio honing new material.

They get the best of both worlds on this set of new songs recorded earlier this year in Woodstock live, for the most part, in front of a hand-selected audience. Using the home studio built by the Band's drummer Levon Helm apparently inspired them to branch further than they characteristically have into the various tributaries of American roots music. Those explorations feed into the Southern rock that remains at the center of the Black Crowes sound.

"Good Morning Captain," the lead-off track, taps the same kind of big-footprint backbeat and raucous interplay that Helm and his cohorts did so well. The Robinsons -- who are joined by the band's original drummer, Steve Gorman, plus guitarist Luther Dickinson, bassist Sven Pipien and keyboardist Adam MacDougall with guest assistance from multi-instrumentalist Larry Campbell -- move through a range of classic-rock reference points: Creedence-like swamp-rock, Tom Petty-ish Americana, Motown-style psychedelia and, in "Make Glad," an experiment in Southern prog-funk.

There are examinations of rootlessness ("What Is Home," "Houston Don't Dream About Me"), the price musicians pay for so much time spent getting from here to there and one heartfelt meditation on the struggle for connection ("Last Place That Love Lives"). These guys still come up with meaty riffs for fans of guitar-driven rock, but also leave themselves plenty of room to stretch out in jam-band excursions.

"Before the Frost . . . " comes with a code that allows purchasers to get a free, download-only companion album, " . . . Until the Freeze."

--Randy Lewis


The Black Crowes 
"Before the Frost ..."
Silver Arrow/Megaforce 
Two and a half stars
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