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Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Black Crowes: "Shake Your Money Maker"


Thanks to the Columbia House music scam of “10 albums for 99 cents” that swept up naïve teenagers like myself, I am proud to say I own this album. To be quite honest, I cannot say exactly how much exposure The Black Crowes have had throughout the course of their band. I’m sure that front man, Chris Robinson’s former marriage to actress Kate Hudson helped bring them into the spotlight a bit; not to mention, they have released several albums in the past 18 years. Of these, its their 1990 release of Shake Your Money Maker that is being brought to your attention. This album takes 90’s rock to a different level. The Black Crowes’ use of rolling piano chords (at times in the rockabilly style of Jerry Lee Lewis) give Shake Your Money Maker a more blues inspired feel than many of the other “rock” albums released around this time. If you’re a fan of blues, classic rock, southern rock, and clear, yet gruff vocals, this album should please you. Keep in mind it’s not a “perfect album”, but there are three or four really awesome tracks on it that are definitely worth listening to.

Opening the album, is a track called “Twice as Hard”. The song begins with a simple guitar riff and then abruptly adds more instrumentation, including an organ, which enhances its southern rock feel. Chris Robinson’s voice can draw the listener in almost immediately with it’s distinct tone and timbre. While slower than many of its counterparts, it’s definite, steady rhythm paired with the ability to sing along, makes for a great opener to the album. “Jealous Again” is dramatically different than the first track of the album in the distinction of its opening guitar/piano intro. For a second there, you may be wondering what kind of genre you’re listening to again. By the time the chorus comes around, you’re hearing the guitar driven music you were expecting along with playful piano chording and rolling throughout the song. It is a brilliant use of blending different instruments. Robinson’s vocal are again, great, but the lyrics in this song are not incredibly thought provoking to the listener. However, this track is super fun to listen to!

“Sister Luck” is a slower paced song with a great “pull you in” intro; a very predated sound to it. This track is once again a well blended guitar/piano composition with good melodies. I believe the most memorable part of the song would be the chorus, where Robinson sings, “Sister luck, is a screamin’ out, somebody else’s name”. You’ll notice throughout listening to this album, that many choruses simply take a lyrical phrase, and repeat it. It’s not the lyrics themselves that make this song distinct, but a mere combination of the melody and simplicity of the chorus…and Robinson‘s vocal abilities. The fourth track on the album “Could I’ve Been So Blind”, is an okay song. The chord structure in this upbeat track is commonly seen in blues music, and the piano usage is completely appropriate and appreciated. As previously mentioned, the lyrical repetition in the choruses of this track use the words, “Could I ever have been so blind?”. While lyrical repetition may not sound all that appealing, it’s smart because you will not soon forget the chorus.

The track, “Seeing Things” is one of the greatest songs on the album. It is heavily blues inspired and definitely falls into the southern rock classification. So much so that it sounds like a mixture of Lynard Skynard’s “Tuesday’s Gone” and Joe Cocker’s cover of “With a Little Help From My Friends”. “Seeing Things” is a well put together mixture of great lyric writing and musicality, both vocally and instrumentally. It has a distinct mellowness that is not found in many of their other tracks. “Hard to Handle” is the sixth track on the album, and my personal favorite. It’s a spunky rock tune that makes you a little giddy, something one never thinks possible when listening to music of this genre. This cover of Otis Redding’s 1968 single, does the album a great deal of justice and would likely make Redding proud. While the vocal melodies are quite similar to Redding’s, every now and then they throw up some changes that work to their advantage. The chorus lyrics are so fast and funky that it almost sounds like a bit of a tongue twister. There are different variations of the chorus, but an example would be, “Boys, they come a long a dime by the dozen, and that ain’t nothin’ but ten cent lovin’. Pretty little thing let me light your candle cause mama I’m sure hard to handle now”. Also, in this song you can find clever lyrics such as “I’m advertisin’ love for free so you can place your ad with me”. This song is light hearted and fun; a credit that is not only deserving to The Black Crowes, but also to the original writer/artist.

“Thick N’ Thin” is a fun, heavily blues inspired tune. It is fast paced and once again, guitar heavy, with strong piano additions. The lyrics are nothing too memorable, but the music itself is so rewarding to listen to. Throughout this song, especially true in the bridge, I almost feel like I’m listening to a Chuck Berry tune when little guitar riffs begin to stand out and crazy piano rolls are backing it up (something you might find in a song like Berry’s, “Johnny B Goode). A super popular hit on this album is the track titled, “She Talks to Angels”. The lyrics in this song are incredibly simple and down to earth and appears to deal with a girl and her problems. With lyrics like, “She paints her eyes as black as night now” and “She‘ll tell you she‘s an orphan after you meet her family”, the lyrics are not only more interesting than some of the tracks prior, but they’re relatable to the basic human emotion of pain, and are personally more striking. This song is slower, much like “Sister Luck” and again, invokes the use of the organ. The use of the organ adds so much dept to this song, it’s easy to understand why it was chosen.

While the ninth and tenth tracks on the album, “Struttin’ Blues” and “Stare It Cold” are nothing spectacular, they’re not terrible. Like other songs belonging to The Black Crowes, the organ is brought back for “Struttin‘ Blues“ , and while it works, there is again, nothing terribly distinctive about this song. On the other hand “Stare it Cold” has at least some distinctive elements in it’s makeup, including the ending of the song where it’s like an “organized chaos” breakdown. The chorus is also pretty easy to catch onto and sing along with, but personally, if I’m singing, I’ll want to tackle more than the chorus. While not a great song, it’s at least mostly entertaining for it’s 5:16 length. The last track on the album is titled, “Don’t Wake Me”, and it’s over before you even have a chance to get into it. At 1:08, it’s by far their shortest track, yet it’s still amusing. It is completely random and sounds like they went into an extremely acoustic bathroom to record it. I love it, though! While I probably would’ve chosen more of a dramatic finish for the album, it’s not a bad way to end it. Like I said, it’s amusing.

The Black Crowes’ Shake Your Money Maker is a good album, but if you decide to add it to your auditory repertoire, do not make the mistake of thinking that every track on this album is a musical masterpiece, because if you do, you will be disappointed. However, I do feel like this album is a totally enjoyable and friendly blues inspired, southern rock album. If you like any of the credited artists sporadically mentioned throughout this review, or if you enjoy either blues or classic/southern rock, I would definitely recommend this album to you. It is nice to know that with the teen angst and grunge music that took over the 90’s, there was still a band out there who was able to hold tight to the ways of their musical predecessors and stick with the stuff that makes me happy to claim that I delight in The Black Crowes’ Shake Your Money Maker.

Key Tracks
1. "Sister Luck"
2. "Seeing Things"
3. "Hard to Handle"
4. "Thick N' Thin"
5. "She Talks to Angels"
6 out of 10 stars

1 comment:

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