Before the Frost … Until the Freeze
If Warners Bros. Records were still around — that is, the late-1960s/early ’70s version that nurtured artists and allowed them to experiment and evolve unfettered by corporate formulas and quotas — the Black Crowes no doubt would be on it.
If the Crowes had been around in 1969-75, they would have fit right in alongside such acts as the Beau Brummels, Van Morrison, Faces, Grateful Dead, Ry Cooder, Little Feat and Tony Joe White.
The recent addition of Luther Dickinson (slide guitarist extraordinaire for the North Mississippi Allstars) is the best thing to happen to the group in a long time, giving it a country-blues edge just when it needed to reinvent itself after a four-year sabbatical. Dickinson also brings wisdom to the table via his late father Jim, who produced many of Warner’s best bands in its heyday.
Brimming with newfound confidence after their return to form on last year’s “Warpaint,” the reconstituted Brothers Robinson and Co. recorded five nights of gigs in front of a handpicked audience in February and March at Levon Helm’s barn. They culled two discs’ worth of new material and released half as the CD “Before the Frost …” with a code to download the remaining “… Until the Freeze.”
Others have released double albums for the price of one, and the Crowes aren’t the first to release a new batch of songs as live tracks. But it’s probably safe to say they’re the first to do both simultaneously.
More of a standard Crowes album, “Frost” includes “Good Morning Captain,” which could pass as a lost Little Feat song somewhere between their first two albums; the Grateful Dead-like “Houston Don’t Dream About Me”; and the Beatlesque “And the Band Played On.”
But it’s “Freeze” that’s the real treat, chock-full of bluegrass and country indulgence. The instrumental “Aimless Peacock” is reminiscent of Loggins and Messina jams like on “Pathway to Glory” and “Be Free.” Bluegrass is even more prevalent on “Garden Gate,” bringing to mind Jim Lauderdale’s work with Ralph Stanley or Steve Earle’s collaboration with the Del McCoury Band. And “Roll Old Jeremiah” is as good a slice of country-rock as anything from Poco, Pure Prairie League or New Riders of the Purple Sage.
Multi-instrumentalist Larry Campbell sat in throughout the shows, embellishing select songs with his formidable banjo, fiddle and pedal steel work.
BEFORE THE FROST … (CD)
1. Good Morning Captain
2. Been A Long Time (Waiting On Love)
4. A Train Still Makes A Lonely Sound
5. I Ain’t Hiding
6. Kept My Soul
7. What Is Home
8. Houston Don’t Dream About Me
9. Make Glad
10. And The Band Played On
11. Last Place That Love Lives
… UNTIL THE FREEZE (free download)
1. Aimless Peacock
2. Shady Grove
3. Garden Gate
5. Shine Along
6. Roll Old Jeremiah
7. Lady Of Avenue A
8. So Many Times
9. Fork In The River
Total time: 1:40:56