The Record Review

The Place For Honest Record Reviews

The Black Crowes Reawakened

tbcfrostThe Black Crowes – Before the Frost…Until the Freeze
August 31, 2009
Silver Arrow Records

Victim of Loudness War? No

The Black Crowes have long been established as one of rock and roll’s pre-eminent live acts. Over the last 20 years, they have pushed boundaries on stages across the world, refusing to play their hits, choosing to instead melt faces with soaring guitar duels, earthy jams, outtakes from album sessions,  B-sides to singles, new originals, re-worked originals, or a myriad assortment of well-chosen and expertly executed covers. The unfortunate thing is, like a majority of bands who are vitally potent on stage, that vitality does not always translate onto record.

In the case of the Black Crowes, the studio catalog has been spotty at best. Discounting The Lost Crowes (a rarities collection released in 2006 comprised from unreleased sessions recorded from 1993-1997), the Crowes’ recorded output the past 10 years has ranged from tentative but earnest (last year’s “comeback” Warpaint) to non-cohesive experimentation (2001’s Lions), to a downright awful parody of themselves (1999’s By Your Side). Even a live album (2002’s Live), which should have been the Crowes’ “ace in the hole,” failed to impress, mostly due to conservative song selection light on the jamming which defines their live experience, a sub-par line-up, and a very murky mix (very much a victim of the “Loudness War,” it is almost unlistenable).

Last year’s Warpaint, featuring new keyboardist Adam MacDougall and slide extraordinaire Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi All-Stars) on lead guitar was a step in the right direction; however, the raw experimentation that had permeated previous works was mostly missing – the record’s best moments were tempered with a weird anxiety – sometimes in the same songs (i.e “Walk Believer Walk,” “Wee Who See The Deep”),  as if, as songwriters, brothers Chris (vocals, guitar) and Rich (guitar, vocals) felt they still  had something to prove.

Those anxieties and insecurities are non-existent on Before the Frost…Until the Freeze, a two-disc set of amazing scope and maturity, that was recorded live in front of a small audience at Levon Helm’s Barn in Woodstock, NY.  It seems as if the Brothers Robinson chose to push forward by digging further into the musical past.  All-out rockers (the opening “Good Morning Captain,” “Been A Long Time,”  “A Train Still Makes A Lonely Sound”) can be found on the first disc (Before the Frost… ), right next to folk-tinged numbers (like “Appaloosa” and “Last Place Love Lives”) that feature fiddle and banjo contributions by Larry Campbell (Levon Helm, Bob Dylan, Phil Lesh & Friends). Also found on the first disc is Rich Robinson’s first lead vocal on a Crowes studio record (the wistful “What Is Home”) and the disco/funk-influenced, amazingly snotty first single “I Ain’t Hiding”, a song full of the lyrical vitriol that is found all over this double album.

That being said, the real treat is the second disc …Until The Freeze, (given away as a free mp3 or FLAC download to those who buy Before The Frost…), which opens up with the droning  jam of “Aimless Peacock.” Featuring Rich Robinson on sitar, Larry Campbell’s fiddle, and Chris Robinson on harmonica, it is an amazingly vibe-heavy piece with almost no lyrics, save for the closing refrain “A song for everyone to sing.” “Peacock” eventually gives way to the harmony-driven “Shady Grove,” a folk-by-way-of-barroom-honky-tonk rock n’ roll number that is a winner from start to finish.

After that is “The Garden Gate,” which is a positively Appalachian, bluegrass-informed hoe-down. Again, Larry Campbell’s fiddle playing is amazing, and Dickinson’s mandolin flourishes are exquisite. If not for the voice, a person wouldn’t believe it was the Black Crowes, musically sounding as if someone has taken Yonder Mountain String Band, mixed it with Dan Tyminski of Allison Krauss’ band and filtered it through Beggar’s Banquet-era Stones. However, the highlight of Before the Frost…Until the Freeze has to be the gorgeous “Greenhorn,” a song filled with lush harmonies that is assured and mature, while remaining wistful and bright at the same time.

This may not be the record that most Crowes fans expect from the band, but it is an amazing piece of work. It certainly took guts for the band to release a record such as this, but it certainly feels right, as if this is exactly the record that they needed to make at this point, both to separate from their musical past as well as to open up the future. Before the Frost… signals a creative rebirth for the Crowes.  While last year’s Warpaint was supposed to be the “comeback” record, this is the Black Crowes’ true return.

– Jeremy Hunsaker

To purchase The Black Crowes’ Before the Frost…Until the Freeze, please click here.

September 2, 2009 - Posted by | Black Crowes, Blues, classic rock, Guitar, Guitars, jam band, Rock, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. I imagined the Crowes being capable of writing better stuff than this.
    I agree with the writer that this BTF-UTF is better than Warpaint (which sucks ass) – diehards hate to admit that – I wish it wasn’t true.

    This new double album overall is very laid-back and isn’t very interesting to Crowes fans who were into the Crowes from like 1992-1997.

    This stuff just doesn’t hold up to that – but at least BTF-UTF is better than Warpaint – and Warpaint def deserves the ‘unwrite these songs’ headline as well!

    Comment by Bob G. | October 11, 2009 | Reply

    • Thank you for your two cents regarding the album. Although I have to disagree with most of your statements, it’s nice to have an alternate opinion presented. I think that many diehard fans should stop comparing everything to the 1992-1997 period of the band. While a creative goldmine and definitely a high-watermark for the band, there has been plenty of great material following it. Before the Frost…Until the Freeze is the Crowes in 2009 and is their most solid effort since 1996’s Three Snakes and One Charm.

      I have still yet to remove BTF…UTF from my player and don’t see it out of the rotation any time soon.

      Again, thanks for your comments…and thanks for reading.

      Comment by recordreview | October 19, 2009 | Reply

      • I think the main problem with this disc (other than the compressed mastering) is that its just boring. If you’re looking for something new & interesting, its not here. There’s not a single song that I can recall after listening to this disc. As far as I’m concerned, the Crowes stopped being interesting after Southern Harmony…YMMV…

        Comment by sbiggles | November 23, 2009

      • Although Jeremy was the author of the review, I thought I’d chime in with a response. I am of the same thought as Jeremy on Before the Frost…Until the Freeze, so I couldn’t disagree with you more. The album is in no way boring and contains things that are superbly new and interesting, particularly with regard to the Black Crowes catalog thus far. To say that there are no memorable songs is just silly, as “Good Morning Captain” is about as catchy as they come. The cover rendition of the Stills/Hillman gem “So Many Times” is a supreme knockout, demanding to be played multiple times.

        If you think the Black Crowes ceased doing anything of interest after The Southern Harmony, you missed out on two of their most significant albums, 1994’s amorica and 1996’s Three Snakes and One Charm. Both are testaments to the band’s strength in songwriting and the ability to create intricate sonic textures.

        Comment by recordreview | November 24, 2009

  2. I don’t think this album is boring at all. Truthfully, I think it might be the best thing they’ve ever recorded.

    Comment by TS | January 2, 2010 | Reply

  3. This is the finest thing that the Crowes have ever done. How anyone can say this doesn’t hold up against their 1990’s era material baffles me completely.

    I mean really, what do fans expect them to do? Issue Southern Harmony part 9?

    Warpaint wasn’t very good either? Tell you what then, just play Shake Your Money Maker forever and give it up, OK?


    Comment by Dazedcat | February 23, 2010 | Reply

    • Money Maker doesn’t get much play anymore – only the holy trinity does and bootlegs.

      I expect the Crowes to make a album that rocks – not an album that sounds like a bunch of 60 year old reefer heads trying to get back the feeling again.

      They’re beyond pathetic at this stage.

      Get Marc and Ed back and then let’s see.

      Comment by Bob G. | August 24, 2010 | Reply

      • Sorry but I disagree. In fact, I feel this album shows how much they’ve matured & developed over the years. Granted, I still love their albums back then. But this one took me by surprise. It tends to feel more heartfelt than previous efforts IMO. Their latest one, Crowesology, seems to reinforce it even more. Oh, & Warpaint? Basically feels like the band getting to know each other again but still just as good. Especially if it progressed to BTF..UTF.

        Comment by Mike | September 3, 2010

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