Vaguely recalling the dawn of the ’90s, when a bunch of bleary-eyed, overdressed blues fops strutted into town with ‘Shake Your Money Maker’, it wasn’t too hard to envisage just what The Black Crowes‘ situation would be like a decade on. Freed from the constraints of reality, they would surely end up making purple-eared triple albums on the freaky psychedelic moon in their miserable, ego-inflated minds and small children would be laughing at them as they walked down the street.
Admittedly, the bit about small children is still plausible. The rest of the prediction, alas, has dismally failed to come true, as incredibly, we find that the Crowes aren’t so much crawling dopily towards the new millennium as marching around looking for a fight. True again, one suspects that a great deal of the effort inherent within ‘By Your Side’ is aimed towards refusing to accept that a new millennium is on the horizon at all, but for a bunch of shallow-cheeked boogiewoogie toffs this record actually reeks of admirably upbeat vibes.
Blame the change of label, from Def American to Columbia, or point the finger at new bassist Sven Pipien. But somehow the whole extremely bad a-change-is-as-good-as-arrest joke sees The Black Crowes picking up their pointy little boots and striding back to their rocking roots. This means that they once again sound tremendously like The Faces, but it could have been a cosmic bollockload worse.
What we quite sneakily like about the Crowes when they’re in this form is that they remind you of your grandad who is still fighting World War II. Just as gramps persists in tussling in the trenches, so the Crowes slavishly recreate a time long gone by, and one can only hope that after all that shaking and moneymaking they managed to build themselves an entire public house from the early-’70s, complete with Watney’s Red Barrel, peanut posters showing scantily-clad ladies and Ralph Bates at the bar with his tankard.
Certainly, they would be throwing some kind of party in there now, as ‘By Your Side’ positively bristles with good time vibes and Cheshire Cat grins. Safe in the knowledge that you can’t keep a good riff down, they plough through bluesy furrows and across boozy fields, never afraid to mend some breakin’ hearts or glower at some fakin’ friend or write a song called ‘By Your Side’ should the need arise.
Gospel choruses? Check. Hyperventilating harmonica? Yup. Cheeky-faced rock’n’roll with a side order of foot-stomping, vibe-quaking eagerness to brighten up the darkest corners of the Walthamstow Royal Standard? Most certainly. And yes, I am now about to get my sheepskin coat…