Album of the Year, 1990

Shake Your Money Maker
by The Black Crowes

Album of the Year, 1990

Buy Shake Your Money Maker

Shake Your Money Maker by Black CrowesThe Black Crowes’ impressive debut brought old-school, blues-flavored rock to the forefront in 1990. A quarter century after its release, Shake Your Money Maker is still the group’s best-selling album and its timeless qualities and genuine song-craft have helped it to maintain its sonic potency. With a blend of classic British blues and American Southern music elements, The Black Crowes released an authentic and original record, which Classic Rock Review has chosen as our Album of the Year for 1990.

In the mid-eighties, vocalist Chris Robinson and guitarist Rich Robinson formed the original incarnation of the group called Mr. Crowe’s Garden. Based in
Marietta, Georgia the group played pop and classic southern rock before eventually turning towards 1970s-era blues rock. Through the late eighties, the brothers Robinson remained at the core of the band which had several revolving supporting members, including rhythm guitarist Jeff Cease.

In 1989, The Black Crowes successfully auditioned with Def American records and began recording their debut with producer George Drakoulias. The group recorded original compositions which the Robinsons’ had written during the previous half decade, including a few tracks that were omitted from the album, such as “Don’t Wake Me”. Drakoulias brought in veteran musician Chuck Leavell, formally of the Allman Brothers Band, to add session piano and keyboards to the album.

Lawn Boy by Phish
Released: January 24, 1990 (Def American)
Produced by: George Drakoulias
Recorded: Soundscape Studios, Atlanta & several studios in Los Angeles, 1989
Track Listing Group Musicians
Twice As Hard
Jealous Again
Sister Luck
Could I’ve Been So Blind
Seeing Things
Hard to Handle
Thick n’ Thin
She Talks to Angels
Struttin’ Blues
Stare It Cold
Live Too Fast Blues
Chris Robinson
Lead Vocals
Rich Robinson
Jeff Cease
Johnny Colt
Steve Gorman
Shake Your Money Maker

Rich Robinson’s big guitar riff sets the album’s tone from the top with “Twice As Hard”. The slow, bluesy riffs are complemented by a slight touch of slide guitar by Cease through this excellent and entertaining pure rocker. “Jealous Again” is a more pop-oriented, in the Rolling Stones-vein, and presents a more dominant presence for vocalist Chris Robinson. Critics of the time tended to typecast The Black Crowes, were immediately typecast as descendants of the Stones and other British rockers, such as the Faces.

That critique was certainly merited as “Sister Luck” returns to the Stones’ vibe, this time as a ballad. In fact, this track comes dangerously close in title and temperament to the Stones’ classic “Sister Morphine” from Sticky Fingers. in contrast, “Could I’ve Been So Blind” is definitely a more modern, straight-forward rock track with good rhythmic rudiments by bassist Johnny Colt and drummer Steve Gorman. This particular song dates all the way back to the Mr. Crowe’s Garden era. “Seeing Things” is an impossibly slow Southern blues ballad, with a strong piano and keyboard presence by Leavell to complement the core rock elements. Chris Robinson vocals are exceptional on this track and he is joined by a background Gospel chorus, forecasting arrangements of future Black Crowes’ albums.

While the cover song “Hard to Handle” is driven by the rock drumming of Gorman, this song’s underlying structure is classic funk. Although originally recorded by of Otis Redding, its inclusion is an implicit shout out to Grateful Dead fans, as that group made the track a live mainstay a couple of decades earlier. In any case, The Black Crowe’s version is masterful and was a hit, reaching number 26 on the Billboard pop charts. “Thick n’ Thin” follows as a frenzied, upbeat blues rocker with heavy guitar chorus riffs and a very entertaining mid-section pushed along by the groovy bass of Colt. Written by Rich Robinson when he was a teenager, the solo intro to “She Talks to Angels” is an intricate acoustic guitar part. Chris Robinson wrote the lyrics about a “goth girl” in Atlanta who was “into heroin” and it contains some profoundly sad lines;

“She keeps a lock of hair in her pocket, she wears a cross around her neck, the hair is from the little boy and the cross is someone she has not met, not yet…”

After this dramatic high point, the album does lose some momentum down the stretch. “Struttin’ Blues” seems to bring the album back up too quickly and feels really frivolous in comparison to the previous track. “Stare It Cold” is in much the same Stones-vein as “Jealous Again” but with plenty of room for short guitar licks in between the verses. It all concludes in the tradition of hidden tracks on nineties albums, with a distant rehearsal-like bluesy track with slight arrangement that fades in and out quickly in less than a minute and a half.

Shake Your Money Maker peaked at number 4 on the Billboard 200 and has sold more than 5 million copies. It launched The Black Crowes into top-tier status with national tours and further successful albums throughout the 1990s.


1990 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1990 albums.

Amorica by The Black Crowes

Amorica by The Black Crowes

Buy Amorica

Amorica by The Black CrowesAlthough not a particularly strong seller, The Black Crowes may have reached the quality peak of their career with their third album, Amorica. After two commercial blockbusters in the early nineties, the band was not able to sustain their commercial momentum. However, they may have strongly elevated their artistic credibility as they completed their evolution towards quasi-improvised, groove-constructed tracks that improve with each listen. Produced by Jack Joseph Puig, the album is also a sonic masterpiece, has just enough rock elements are strategically placed in the cracks between the funk and blues inspired structures.

The group’s 1992 album, The Southern Harmony & Musical Companion, saw them expand their sound with a chorus of backup singers and two new permanent band members. On this album, the six-piece band went “old school”, finding plenty of space for each musician to exercise their respective chops, while guitarists Rich Robinson and Marc Ford stayed firmly above the fray. Lyrically, vocalist Chris Robinson wrote highly introspective lyrics.

On the popular music front, Amorica is noted for the controversy over its racy original album cover (taken from a 1976 cover of Hustler magazine). As a result, early pressings were banned from many retail outlets and an alternative cover (pictured above) was put together for later releases.

Amorica by The Black Crowes
Released: November 1, 1994 (American)
Produced by: Jack Joseph Puig
Recorded: May-June 1994
Track Listing Group Musicians
A Conspiracy
High Head Blues
Cursed Diamond
She Gave Good Sunflower
P.25 London
Ballad In Urgency
Wiser Time
Downtown Money Waster
Chris Robinson – Lead Vocals
Rich Robinson – Guitars
Marc Ford – Guitars
Eddie Harsch – Keyboards
Johnny Colt – Bass
Steve Gorman – Drums, Percussion

Amorica by The Black Crowes

A percussive start by drummer Steve Gorman leads into the opening track “Gone”, a raw, slightly out of tune guitar jam that sounds rough and unrehearsed track, but still carries cool charm. “A Conspiracy” is similar but a bit more refined, after starting very choppy with the illusion of being highly unfocused. The guitar arrangement between Ford and Robinson provides the thrust behind lyrics laced with a sense of dread. “High Head Blues” is really the first really accessible song on the album, as an upbeat and entertaining track reminiscent of Eric Burden and War. The percussion is provided by guest Eric Bobo and drives the long verse sections before the driving rock of the refrain.

“Cursed Diamond” is the first of several ballads, although this includes some loose and wild instrumentation which really picks up in intensity as it goes along. “Nonfiction” has a country feel and features picked acoustic with sweet overtones of slide guitar, accordion, bass, and fine keyboards by Eddie Harsch. Harsch starts “She Gave Good Sunflower” with a cool, 70’s-inspired distorted electric piano before meandering into a more standard Black Crowes-style rock and soul arrangement, although most of the remainder of the song is a simple, upbeat jam with flailing wah-wah guitars. “Ballad in Urgency” is another completely unique track on the album, with calm but potent guitar tones and phrasing and decidedly downtrodden lyrics. The song dissolves into a piano section with fine bass added by Johnny Colt.

The highlight of the latter part of the album, “Wiser Time” is driven by the excellent beat by Gorman, slide guitars by Rich Robinson, and duo lead vocals. The extended verses are carried by this fine three chord repetitive sequence, with sparse rock chorus sections breaking up the song. Later on the track there is a great four-part lead section, starting with a bluesy acoustic, followed by electric piano, then a single wailing electric guitar, and finally soaring harmonized guitars, giving this song buckets of variety. “Downtown Money Waster” contains ragtime piano and slide acoustic with scat percussive effects, while Chris Robinson does a great Delta blues impression vocally. The closer, “Descending” is a long ballad with more great slide guitars. The thumping bass riff of Colt picks things up a bit in the middle section before a true piano solo brings song and album to a calm ending.

Amorica eventually reached Gold status by selling 500,000 copies and the band enjoyed a successful tour the following year. In 1996, the group followed up with Three Snakes and One Charm, the final album with this lineup before several members parted ways in subsequent years.


1994 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1994 albums.

Southern Harmony & Musical Companion by The Black Crowes

The Southern Harmony & Musical Companion
by The Black Crowes

Buy The Southern Harmony & Musical Companion

Southern Harmony & Musical Companion by The Black Crowes With the follow-up to their blockbuster 1990 debut, The Black Crowes took a more rootsy and soulful approach with The Southern Harmony & Musical Companion. That debut, Shake Your Money Maker, sold over 5 million copies in its first two years and sent the band on a near-constant tour playing over 350 shows in a year and a half. The new record by the band featured Marc Ford on lead guitar, who replaced Jeff Cease after his departure the year before. This, along with the addition of a full-time keyboardist in Eddie Harsch and a strong presence of female backing vocals gave the Black Crowes room to explore, improvise, and jam with the new material.

The album borrowed its title from a popular book of hymns from the nineteenth century and was suggested by lead singer Chris Robinson. First published by William Walker in 1835, the original The Southern Harmony & Musical Companion was often the sole source of musical literacy for many rural Americans.

The core of the Black Crowes is their rhythm section, lead by Chris’s brother Rich Robinson on guitar who forges the cool, fresh-sounding grooves that anchor the band’s sound. Johnny Colt lays down the solid bass while Steve Gorman provides a very effective, assertive, and melodic form of drumming. The album was produced by George Drakoulia, who gave every instrument a sharp and clear voice, while embracing the looseness of the compositions.

Southern Harmony & Musical Companion by The Black Crowes
Released: May 12, 1992 (Def American)
Produced by: George Drakoulias
Recorded: Various Locations, 1991
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Sting Me
Thorn In My Pride
Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye
Sometimes Salvation
Hotel Illness
Black Moon Creeping
No Speak No Slave
My Morning Song
Time Will Tell
Chris Robinson – Lead Vocals
Rich Robinson – Guitars
Marc Ford – Guitars
Eddie Harsch – Keyboards
Johnny Colt – Bass
Steve Gorman– Drums
Southern Musical & Harmony Companion by The Black Crowes

The album contains nine new songs written by the Robinson brothers, along with a Bob Marley cover “Time Will Tell”, which closes the album. Just as the band made a signature song out of the Otis Redding cover “Hard To Handle” on the previous album, they make the Marley song their own by rearranging the reggae into a more New Orleans sound. Unfortunately it does not work nearly as well as the previous cover.

The essence of the Black Crowes’ sound is their revival of the solid roots rock of the 1970s along with just enough chord changes, tempo shifts, and the decor of feedback and other effects including catchy lyrics. This is evident early in the album, starting with “Sting Me”. This album opener became a hit for the group, reaching number one on the Billboard Album Rock Tracks chart, while the next track “Remedy” had even greater success. This second track has a good hook in the beginning and evolves as the song goes on, never getting stuck in the same rut as some of the other songs.

“Thorn in My Pride” is one of the finest songs on the album and also sets the template for the type of approach the band took on many tracks here – a laid back, slow, and melodic build which introduces the instruments seperately above the picked out acoustic notes gradually building into an extended, 6-minute hymn which showcases all that the band is capable of doing. “Hotel Illness” is another strong track with a Stones-like riff and bluesy elements throughout.

While Southern Harmony contains a strong collection of songs, which bridge the metamorphasis between the concise pop/rock of Shake Your Money Maker and the more jam-oriented tracks of their future records, the album at times seems too even, with not enough peaks and valleys to make it an interesting adventure for the listener. This is true for the album as a whole as well as for many individual tracks. It would have been a respectable debut had it come first, but it really didn’t raise the bar for musical excellence.


1992 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1992 albums.