THE BLACK CROWES – Freak ‘n’ Roll…Into the Fog: The Black Crowes All Join Hands, The Fillmore, San Francisco

THE BLACK CROWES - Freak 'n' Roll...Into the Fog: The Black Crowes All Join Hands, The Fillmore, San Francisco

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Eagle Records
Release date: September 19, 2006

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Back in the 70’s, a live album was a highly anticipated release by fans and an essential addition to an act’s catalog … to the point where no credible band could be without one. In fact for many groups, their live albums were arguably their best, and some of the greatest albums of the Hard Rock genre were cast in the live arena (although there may be some dispute as to how “live” some of them actually were!).

Certainly Kiss Alive I and II, UFO Strangers in the Night, Unleashed In The East by Judas Priest, Thin Lizzy Live And Dangerous, and AC/DC’s If You Want Blood are a few that spring up quickly as milestones in the legendary status of these bands.

If you look back over the 80’s and 90’s, can you honestly say that there are any live recordings that can stand up to the titans of the 70’s? Thought not … or are the rose tinted spectacles coming out here? These days, live albums seem to be thrown out as some sort of contractual obligation to a less-than-thrilled fan base, but there are still some that can hit the mark.

The Black Crowes are no strangers to live releases, having released 2 full albums, including the ground-breaking Live At The Greek, which was originally released in conjunction with the now defunct Musicmaker.com as an internet-only release before becoming so successful that a general retail release quickly followed. A second live album followed in 2001, simply titled Live, and a live EP was slipped into the Sho’ Nuff Box Set as a bonus for fans.

The Black Crowes have returned with their second consecutive live album — this time taking a recording from San Francisco’s legendary Fillmore from their 2005 shows when the band returned to the stage following a lengthy hiatus that many feared had signaled the end of the band.

Freak ‘n’ Roll finds The Crowes in fiery form over 19 tracks cherry picked from their Southern Rock/Blues-soaked back catalog, together with some choice covers. Kicking off with a riotous “(Only) Halfway To Everywhere,” and backed by the sassy Left Coast Horns together with a couple of female backing singers, the band sounds tight. The sound throughout is powerful and the performance energetic, and the combination of the horns and the backing singers give a brighter, more rounded ambiance to their material.

Following hot on the heels comes “Sting Me” and “No Speak No Slave” — both having more punch than their studio counterparts, with Chris Robinson having a rather nasally twang to his voice than he does in the studio giving a more Blues-infused edge to his vocals. “Soul Singing” certainly lives up to its title, and Rich Robinson is given the opportunity to shine as the song rolls off into jam territory.

Certainly in the past, The Crowes have been known the meander off into some trippy jams that have, at times, been on the tiresome side. Fortunately, those excesses seem to have been curtailed in favor of songs here. When the band flexes their jamming muscles, it is in a more structured and focused way, and this benefits the performance as a whole, and avoids any lulls in the atmosphere.

“Jealous Again” is a particular highlight. How can anyone resist that sleazy riff and Honky Tonk piano and Faces-like delivery? Music this pure is a joy to hear and strikes to the real roots of music.

Midset, The Crowes bring the tone down with an acoustic section that includes “Sunday Night Buttermilk Waltz,” where Rich and the returning (but now departed) Marc Ford show a deft touch on their guitars, and a touching “She Talks To Angels” from their classic debut album.

“Hard To Handle” brings the mood right back up again and “Mellow Down Easy” swaggers boldly with grimy slide guitar and a ferocious, rasping blues harp, recalling the excellent King King album by The Red Devils. All of the ingredients that make Blues so passionate are here … fantastic stuff.

Rounding off the show are a rip-roaring “Remedy,” and a laid back “The Night They Drove ‘Ol Dixie Down,” where Chris Robinson gives an impassioned performance.

Freak ‘n’ Roll may not quite hit the heady heights of those aforementioned 70’s classics, but it certainly stands as a fine testament to a great live act and is one of the strongest live albums to hit the streets in recent years. So, if you fancy a touch of hard-hitting Southern Rock/Blues, then grab yourself a copy of Freak ‘n’ Roll, pour yourself a stiff whiskey, and sit back and enjoy!

Author

  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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