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The Black Crowes - The Southern Harmony And Musical Companion: Album Of The Week Club Review

Your reviews of The Black Crowes' Southern Harmony And Musical Companion: the exhilarating sound of a band hitting its stride... or is it?

The Southern Harmony And Musical Companion
The Black Crowes: The Southern Harmony And Musical Companion

The Black Crowes - The Southern Harmony And Musical Companion

1. Sting Me
2. Remedy
3. Thorn in My Pride
4. Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye
5. Sometimes Salvation
6. Hotel Illness
7. Black Moon Creeping
8. No Speak No Slave
9. My Morning Song
10. Time Will Tell

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From the one-two, uptempo punch of openers Sting Me and its soulful cousin Remedy, through the melancholic beauty of Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye to the strut and swagger of Hotel Illness and No Speak No Slave, to a New Orleans-flavoured take on Bob Marley’s Time Will Tell, The Southern Harmony And Musical Companion was the exhilarating sound of a band hitting its stride.

Funky, artlessly noisy, loose and tight in perfect measure, with stomping beats, church-y female background vocals, and dual guitars snaking around Chris’s raspy howl, it echoed everything from Exile-era Stones and Nick Drake to the Allman Brothers. More than anything else, though, it sounded like The Black Crowes. 

The new album was named after a post-Civil War southern hymnal, The Southern Harmony And Musical Companion. Released on May 12, 1992, it entered the US Billboard album chart at No.1.

“The record debuted at No.1 and went on to sell millions of copies, and was our real success in Europe. And I think with people who are into The Black Crowes, it’s our finest record, our classic album,” says Chris Robinson. 

Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. 

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Background

In the world outside, US President George Bush got ill and vomited on the Japanese Prime Minister. The Space Shuttle Discovery 15 launched. And in LA, racial tensions were heating up, stoked by the impending trial of four white policemen accused of beating African-American Rodney King. The opening lines of the new album would prove prescient: ‘If you feel like a riot, don’t you deny it.’

Over the course of what Chris Robinson calls “eight hazy days”, the band recorded the entire album to 24-track tape. That’s not bad in an era when it routinely took Def Leppard three years to make a record.

“We’d done the work on the front end,” bass player Johnny Colt explains. “We walked in the studio totally ready. A real rock’n’roll band who can play and who toured the way we did? If you can’t cut your record in eight days, something’s wrong with you.”

Colt, drummer Steve Gorman, guitarist Marc Ford and new keyboardist Eddie Hawrysch had to be on their toes. “It took all I had to concentrate on where to put my hands and just get through the songs,” Ford says.

Colt: “In Chris and Rich [Robinson], you had two super-good songwriters trying to figure things out. The rest of us were there to help give each song legs."

Other albums released in May 1992

  • Santana - Milagro
  • Midnight Oil - Scream in Blue
  • Iron Maiden - Fear of the Dark
  • Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Henry's Dream
  • Testament - The Ritual
  • Saxon - Forever Free
  • Kiss - Revenge
  • Spiritualized - Lazer Guided Melodies
  • Hawklords - Hawklords Live
  • Grateful Dead - Two from the Vault

What they said...

"Nothing wrong with mixing up a blues-based mush of Stones and Faces and Allmans and whoever, especially when you come by your influences naturally and don't imitate any of them. So of course these youngsters are "original" enough. What they're not is good enough. After all, the Faces and the Allmans weren't such hot songwriters either, and their heirs don't exactly have a Young Rod or a Gregg-and-Dickey to compensate." (Robert Christgau)

"And why are the Crowes so successful? Because they instinctively recognize a musical pose that gives them everything from a way to dress and a way to act onstage to a whole vocabulary of riffs that exactly fit their talent and experience. They are not nostalgic. They don’t revive the music of the early Seventies or reproduce it or even, really, imitate it. The Crowes simply generate it, as if there were not twenty years between them and the source of their inspiration." (Rolling Stone)

"The Black Crowes don’t have anything new to tell us, nor do they have a new way to tell it. What they do have is a frisky, straight-ahead rock & roll positivism that runs so contrary to nearly everything else in the present singer-guitars-drums category that you can’t help but like them. What’s wrong with following in the proud tradition of some of big-time rock’s cheeriest overachievers? After all, they could have wanted to be Foghat." (Entertainment Weekly)

What you said...

Martyn Lane: This is a great album. It may not be the most original, but it has blues, it has rock, it has soul. Remedy is one of my favourite tracks of the 90s and this is my favourite album of the decade, too. The Black Crowes made three possibly four really good rock albums, but this stands head and shoulders above them all.

Robin L Haddon: After the bombastic bradaggio and strut of Shake... The Black Crowes had no problem delivering their second opus. An emotional Southern soaked blues trip, beautifully produced by Drakoulias. Not as immediate as its predecessor but none the less memorable. Sting Me, Remedy, Thorn in my Pride, Bad Luck Blue Eyes... a 90s classic.

Pete Mineau: Redundant and pointless. Why listen to these guys when The Faces are available? I saw The Black Crowes open for Aerosmith's Pump tour in '90. Jealous Again, their first single release, was starting to get some radio play. The majority of the band was shirtless for some reason. I remember them prancing and frolicking around the stage. As they gambolled merrily, presenting their notion of what a "rock star" is/does, I turned to my buddy and said, "What a bunch of poser wannabes!". He replied, "Yup!". 

Twenty-eight years later, I stand by that statement, "What a bunch of poser wannabes!". I would have to give The Southern Harmony And Musical Companion a rating of 1 out of 10. Again, what's the point when you have The Faces doing it first and much, much better.

Matthew Graham: Listened to this tonight, took me back to the first time I heard it, after the 3.01 min to the 3:30 min mark I was all in... could not believe this was music being made in the 90s. I was losing all hope in the music industry and what was happening to Rock... my faith was restored.

Simon J. Adlington: Great album, a delicious southern stew of Skynyrd, Allmans, Stones, Faces, Clapton and others, but served up Robinson style. Still a favourite all these years later.

Maxwell Martello: Whenever I put on any of the first three Black Crowes records I find myself wondering. As far as late 80s & early 90s retro-rock goes, I can’t seem to figure out how this band managed to outsell acts such as Cry of Love, Georgia Satellites (unjustly relegated to one hit wonders status) and Raging Slab.

Sure, listeners needed a break from the image obsessed hair bands of the day, but this bores the hell outta me. Kudos for the influences, much less so for the results. I’d rather stick to the originals. Stones, Skynyrd, Allman. In a desperate effort to “get” into this band, I even tracked down Marc Ford’s previous band, Burning Tree. That didn’t move me either.

The one and only Black Crowes record I consistently enjoy is... the double live album with Jimmy Page. They sure sounded great live, but needed someone else’s repertoire, theirs was never strong enough for my ears.

Ben L. Connor: Brilliant album! I have to say though that I prefer their debut. It’s a little better paced, whereas Southern Harmony falls off in the second half. Money Maker also has a few more uptempo songs, which gives it that extra ‘kick’ for me.

Joe Cogan: One of the best albums of the 1990s, and I'm normally not a fan of "Southern Rock". If the Stones were American, this would be their Sticky Fingers.

Alex Kleinwachter: One of the best rock albums of the 90s, hands down, and the Crowes at their absolute peak, straddling the line perfectly between the pure rock'n'roll swagger of their debut and their looser, more jam-inflected later work.

Nick Graham: My first week as a member here and I don’t even have to listen to the album - it’s ingrained in my DNA. One of my top five records of all time. Damn near perfect in every way.

Michael Davis: Bought and loved Remedy when it came out, but for some strange reason never got the album until a few years ago. Absolutely brilliant. Was lucky to see Thorn In My Pride live while they were still on their Money Maker tour. Really class album.

James Braide: Absolutely in my top ten albums, what Marc ford brought to the Crowes was something else. Love this record.

Dan Shipway: Great choice. This is when the Crowes were untouchable live and in the studio. The first album was brilliant, but this was on another level with the addition of Marc Ford and Eddie H on piano. The songs, Chris Robinson's vocals and the guitars were perfection. They released Remedy ahead of the album, which was such a great single. They never hit better than this era... the tour with Thee Hypnotics the year previous, the acoustic show at Ronnie Scott's, this whole album. I still regularly listen to this. The only other album from this period that I play as often is The Four Horsemen... and they were on the same label!

Shayne Ashby: Needs to be mentioned... the guitar tone on this album is killer. For me, perhaps one of the greatest guitar tones ever captured on record. That guitar intro on Sting Me just melts in your ears..

Jacob Tannehill: Man oh man... the last real rock'n'roll band of my era. I played the hell out of this album when it came out. When I played a lot of guitar, I learned half the album...

They borrowed heavily from their heroes, yet made it totally original...

There’s nothing like this these days... nothing.

Mike Rowell: The Black Crowes are criminally underrated. This album could have been an early '70s Stone's record. Which means it is pretty damn good.

Jim Linning: By going back to the future, The Black Crowes showed it was all about the songs and the riffs. For me, albums like this have stood the test of time better than a lot of the 'grunge' albums for that very reason. Yes it sounds like it was made in the 70s but to these ears, today, it could just as easily have been recorded yesterday. A superb album!

Stu Greenwood: For me they never bettered this album. The balance the riffs, the sound, everything was completely there, and it still rocked. The perfect combo of Robinson and Ford on guitars as well, this was an album when they started to forge a unique identity,

David Alejandro Cepeda Benavides: I've listened to this album twice, i think it's solid. Not a big fan of The Black Crowes but i really like Thorn In My Pride, Remedy, Hotel Illness and My Morning Song. 8/10

Uli Hassinger: Unfortunately the first two albums present the band at their peak. I’ve had expected much more of the Crowes after their brilliant start. To me their debut is their highlight because of its raw power. The successor is brilliant too but lacks the dirty rock attitude. Remedy stands out. Their is not one bad tune on the album, but more killer songs are missing. 8/10

Chris Weir: Best thing they ever did by far, after this it was a pretty uneven career, musically: some good records and a bunch of not so good records. Great band, though.

Andrew Bramah: Brilliant album, but one of the most disappointing live bands I've seen. On both occasions they were sloppy and either wasted or drunk or both.

Carl Black: I think this is a soul/blues/rock album. I love rock, no problem there. I love blues, but Son House blues and Robert Johnson blues. I don't like soul music. This presents a problem. When they rocked out on this album, it was OK. When they played the blues, I thought they could have done it better. When they played soul music, I wanted to switch it off. I will never play this album again, but I'd dance with my wife at a wedding, with a few wines inside me, without a second hesitation. I'm off to listen to AC/DC and Canned Heat. Best of both worlds.

Glenn McDonald: A stonewall classic, from possibly the last truly great classic rock band. A band out of time and out of touch with what was going on around them, and happy to plough their own furrow on the less obvious hinterlands of the musical landscape. Huge nonetheless, largely due to the big hit singles and that cover version, lifted from the more direct and derivative (though still great) debut album. 

Just like The Band in the 60s with the release of their self-titled second album (right down to the brown artwork and earthy photo) The Black Crowes eschewed musical trend for truth, drawing inspiration instead from the roots of rock'n'roll and American frontier mythology. In that sense the band's lineage had little to do with what directly preceded them - 80s hair rock - or what was occurring around them - grunge. From this, their second album and onward, the Crowes sounded like an authentic southern-tinged 70s rock band from that era, like they'd always been there.

Few albums open with the double barrel fire and chutzpah of Sting Me and Remedy. And to follow those up with the greatest three card trick in the band's recorded history. Emotional, truthful, raw. A truly special twenty minutes of music across tracks 3-5. I don't agree that the album runs out of legs on side two. I would say like all great albums side two just offers something a bit different, from straight up road rock to thunderous gospel. And I love how it finishes with a woozy Time Will Tell, which in the manner it's performed and captured reminds me of the Zep "on the lawn" sessions from Physical Graffiti.

A great record from a band that made a number of them in my opinion. It captures the Crowes at a perfect point between innocence and experience, when the world was at their feet. I think this band's catalogue is well overdue a critical reassessment, it's pretty stellar across many records and goes far beyond the well trodden debut record.

Final Score: 8.11 ⁄10 (360 votes cast, with a total score of 2923)

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