My friend Tony Shore is shameless.
I’ve known this for quite some time. You know what his favorite album of all time is? 90125, by Yes. And he tells people this. The man has no shame whatsoever.
So I suppose I wasn’t surprised when I logged onto his site this week and saw his Beatles Box Fund post. Yes, Dr. Tony Shore is soliciting donations to help him afford the remastered Beatles albums, out today. If you want to help him buy this very expensive set, you can give him some cash, and in return, he’ll mention your name on the ObviousPopcast, his regular podcast.
As I said, totally shameless. And sort of brilliant.
Now, my friend Melissa and I had a conversation about doing something similar a few months ago. I decided I already ask you guys to wade through my endless rambling every week, I didn’t feel like asking you for more than that. But now that Tony’s gone and done it, and I’m putting my pennies together to (hopefully) afford that stereo box set (16 CDs and a DVD, in a gorgeous case, and hell, it’s the Beatles), it looks like he’ll get the last laugh. But you never know. There are a lot of box sets coming out that I want, most notably the $365 Miles Davis complete Columbia albums set. That one’s 71 discs. Seventy. One. Discs. I’m dead serious. Might need some help on that one.
So good on you, Tony Shore. And I’m going to give you some money, just for having the gumption to do this. I hope you pronounce my name right on your podcast.
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Speaking of podcasts, if you head to www.linernotesmagazine.com right now (RIGHT NOW!), you can hear a new one starring Derek Wright and yours truly. I talked about this a couple of weeks ago, but it’s a reality now. Hear us both trash The Airborne Toxic Event and Deer Tick, and disagree slightly on how awesome the Antlers album Hospice is. Also, listen as a trained professional radio man (Derek) guides a stuttering, tongue-tied fool (me) through his own points. It’s fun and educational!
In this particular podcast, Derek and I got into a discussion about double albums. I like ‘em, he hates ‘em. It took us five solid minutes of back-and-forth to come up with the crux of our divergence: I am excited by the potential of the double album, and Derek is disappointed that so many fail to live up to that potential.
And you know what, I am too. The wide-open canvas of the double album still thrills me, but so few truly fill that canvas with great art. The thing is, I will never look at getting more music from my favorite artists as a bad thing. I love ambition, and I love it when songwriters feel they have enough to say, enough of a statement to make, that just one CD won’t cut it. I get that they’re not all like that, but no amount of practical accounting of double-album successes and failures will make me less excited about them.
Case in point: the Black Crowes. Longtime readers of this site know how I feel about them. I’ve been a fan since I was a teenager, I cried a couple tears when they broke up in 2002, and rejoiced when they reunited six years later. They’ve re-emerged as a more complex and subtle band – reunion album Warpaint was much slower and more relaxed than anyone could have guessed it would be – but they’re still a superb ‘70s-inspired rock band, and the combination of Chris Robinson’s voice and brother Rich’s guitar still knocks me out, just like it did when I first heard it.
So imagine my joy when I heard the Crowes would be releasing their first double album. Well, the etymology’s a little confused – while there are two discs of material here, they’re separated into two albums, Before the Frost and Until the Freeze. The second album comes as a free download when you buy the first. Unless, of course, you buy the vinyl, which includes all 20 songs, mixed up into an entirely new order. It really makes me wonder how this was meant to be heard.
But all I can do is review what’s in front of me, and the way I have it, Before the Frost… Until the Freeze is a double album on two CDs, individually named. And it’s interesting that they’re separated out this way, because Before the Frost, in this incarnation, is one of the best albums of the Crowes’ long career. And Until the Freeze… isn’t.
Let’s back up. For this album, the Crowes finally did something they should have done years ago – they recorded their new songs live. They wrote 19 tunes, threw in a cover of Stephen Stills’ “So Many Times,” rounded up an audience at Levon Helm’s studio, set up some microphones and went to work. The result is an album simply dripping with energy. If you were concerned that Warpaint had a few too many ponderous ballads, then the first disc, Before the Frost, is for you. The Crowes have rarely leapt from the speakers with such rock ‘n’ roll ferocity.
In this setting, the push and pull between the often-squabbling Brothers Robinson comes alive. The record opens with “Good Morning Captain,” one of their more singalong numbers, but explodes with “Been a Long Time (Waiting on Love).” Opening with a monster riff, the tune just smokes along for four minutes, then breaks down into an awe-inspiring jam coda for another three. After this, Rich Robinson is well and truly warmed up, and he doesn’t put a foot wrong for the rest of the record.
Some criticize the Crowes for staying so true to their ‘70s rock roots, but I don’t mind, for two reasons. First, no one else sounds like this right now. No one is doing pure rock ‘n’ roll like this. And second, the Crowes write great songs. There isn’t a one-four-five blues-rock song on Before the Frost, anywhere, and some of them, like the disco-infused “I Ain’t Hiding” and the funktastic “Make Glad,” go places this band has never gone before.
There are slower moments, like Rich’s solo spot “What is Home,” and the beautiful closer “The Last Place that Love Lives.” But Before the Frost is all about reasserting the Crowes’ rock credibility, and man, it does that well. This is the way they should record all of their albums. I’ve rarely heard them lay into a groove the way they do here, and every single song on Before the Frost is worth hearing.
But that’s just because they put all the so-so ones on Until the Freeze. Before hearing it, I wasn’t sure why the Crowes had decided to make this record a free download. Now I know. Freeze contains all the more traditional and acoustic numbers, and all the ones in which the melodies don’t quite cohere. It opens with a nearly seven-minute, mostly-instrumental jam called “Aimless Peacock,” which lives down to its title, and while it goes up from there, nothing on this album matches the explosive excellence of the first disc.
I don’t want to give the impression that Freeze is bad, though. It’s just simpler and lazier. I quite like the extended acoustic float of “Greenhorn,” with its spectral electric piano bits, and the traditional bluesy stomp of “Shine Along” is nice. “Roll Old Jeremiah” is a sweet old-time country number, and they do quite a nice job with “So Many Times.” But by the time you get to the weepy closer “Fork in the River,” you may be wondering if you’re still listening to a rock band.
All of which really makes me wonder about that double vinyl release. It might be fun to hear just how Before the Frost… Until the Freeze sounds as an integrated unit, but I’m not sure I would sacrifice the momentum and energy of that first disc. And it would – instead of “Good Morning Captain,” the vinyl version opens with “Aimless Peacock,” which likely stops things dead before they get started. And yet, separated out by the more rockin’ tracks, the Freeze material might seem more energetic.
Intriguingly, I appear to be defeating my own argument – as a double album, I’m not sure this works. But reduced to a single disc of the strongest tracks, this is one of my favorite Black Crowes records. Regardless, if you’ve ever liked this band, you owe it to yourself to at least try Before the Frost. 20 years into their career, the Brothers Robinson are still making great music together, and these new songs are some of their best.
And look, I got through an entire review without calling the Black Crowes the best rock ‘n’ roll band in the world.
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There’s a lot of music coming out in the next couple of months, but of the dozens of new records hitting stores, one stands out to me. And it’s not even eligible for my top 10 list.
On October 2, Marillion will release Less is More, their first acoustic album. It’s stripped-down studio recordings of 10 old tracks and one new one. Why am I so excited for this? First of all, Marillion’s one of my favorite bands, and they’re constantly reinventing themselves. But second, there’s the track listing, which was officially released over the weekend.
Rather than sticking to the usual suspects (“Easter,” “The Answering Machine,” “Gazpacho”), Steve Hogarth and the boys have apparently gone for broke, doing acoustic renditions of songs I never expected. Among the lineup: “Interior Lulu,” a 15-minute prog-rock extravaganza from 1999; “Hard as Love,” the near-metal centerpiece of 1994’s Brave; and “If My Heart Were a Ball It Would Roll Uphill,” the nine-minute multi-part Rock God closer of 2001’s Anoraknophobia. This is like Metallica making an acoustic album, and eschewing “The Unforgiven” for “Battery” and “And Justice for All.”
I’m pretty stoked for this. It sounds like these songs have been completely reinvented, and I always love hearing that. But more than that, it sounds like this long-running band (28 years and counting!) is still pushing against its own boundaries, and that makes me a happy music fan. More details here.
That’s it for this week. Next week, Imogen Heap and David Bazan, probably. Don’t forget to listen to Derek’s podcast at www.linernotesmagazine.com. Leave a comment on my blog at tm3am.blogspot.com, and follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/tm3am.
See you in line Tuesday morning.