March 1999

The Black Crowes - By Your Side
Columbia CK 69361
Released: 1999 

by Bruce Bassett

Musical Performance ***
Recording Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment **1/2

[Reviewed on CD]Back to the future

A couple of months ago I observed some regular visitors at SoundStage! Talk Online as they lamented the lack of good, new-old rock music. With that oxymoron I am referring to new music akin to the early sounds of The Stones, Aerosmith, The Allman Brothers, et al. One poster averred online that Aerosmith’s Toys in the Attic and Get Your Wings were true rock classics. To this statement there was general agreement. The consensus was (and I paraphrase quite liberally) that nothing in recent memory has come close to recreating that magic. This included virtually everything that Aerosmith has done over the past 15 years or so. Intrigued by this discussion, I decided to find out what the latest release from the Black Crowes had to offer to those of us pining for the glory days of rock’n’roll gone by.

Something to Crowe about?

Since their debut, Shake Your Money Maker, almost a decade ago, the Black Crowes have been playing a spirited brand of southern-fried hard rock, and this new release continues to mine that vein. "Go Faster" opens By Your Side with a solid, if not a tad clichéd, back beat, accompanied by some hard-edged, low-slung guitar and almost frenetic, blues-soaked harmonica. The lyrics are laced with devil-may-care attitude and hence are typically banal. But lest we forget -- this is rock’n’roll.

The majority of the CD follows in the footsteps of the lead-off track. There is more than a nod given to Aerosmith, and Chris Robinson delivers his trademark Rod Stewart / Steve Tyler hybrid vocals with the type of slurred ebullience one has come to expect. The music is laden with grinding guitars, blues-inspired lead breaks, and enticing hooks.

There are a few tunes that do veer off the retro road, including "Welcome to the Goodtimes." I would hazard a guess that this is the Crowes' entry into the soppy hit-song parade. Its sound is indistinguishable from any one of Aerosmith’s ballad-style, hit singles from the ‘90s.

A song that had tremendous potential was "Go Tell the Congregation." It borrows inspiration from Stevie Ray Vaughan and serves up a pretty nice dose of southern boogie blues. Unfortunately, the inclusion of a ho-hum chorus and a failed attempt at adding a gospel vibe through some chintzy electric-organ playing temper the appeal.

Eating Crowe?

By Your Side is a good, bruisin’ and bluesin’ rock release, not entirely unlike Aerosmith of yore. Why, then, did I not like this CD much more than I did? Here’s my theory. For many of us, those ‘70s rock bands are forever associated with a time in our lives. When we listen to a blast from our past, it conjures up, perhaps subconsciously, an emotional response of that time. When we listen to retro-rock music, the emotional connection isn’t made. I wonder how many of the Black Crowes’ fans had Aerosmith every morning for breakfast when they were young. I suspect not many. Most of their fans are probably in their mid-teens to early 20s. Does that make the rest of us geezers unable to understand the appeal of a band like the Black Crowes? Not at all. We understand why someone would enjoy this kind of music. After all, we’ve been there, done that, and probably bought more than one t-shirt.