Great, classic, rock & roll
It is now more than 30 years since The Black Crowes released their debut album, Shake Your Money Maker (13 February, 1990; Def American Recordings), which went on to sell over five million copies, produce five singles and reach number four on the Billboard 200 Album Chart.
Yes, the combustible fraternal relationship between lead singer Chris Robinson, and guitarist and songwriter Rich will always grab the headlines, but the tight rhythm section comprising drummer Steve Gorman, along with bassist Johnny Colt and guitarist Jeff Cease helped fuel this American classic. Interestingly, Rick Rubin was credited as a producer after the album became a hit, but it was George Drakoulias who was initially credited, and who brought in Chuck Leavell, formerly of the Allman Brothers Band, to add keyboards to the album.
The Crowes melded American rock with a blues sound that harked back to British bands like the Rolling Stones, the Faces and Humble Pie, but which nonetheless sounded urgent and fresh. It is worth recalling the context in which it was produced; one in which Glam Rock still held influence. Specifically in 1990, Neil Young, Peter Gabriel and Tracey Chapman united to perform a tribute concert at Wembley for Nelson Mandela; Jean Michel Jarre attracted a 2.5 million audience for a gig in Paris and Roger Waters put on Pink Floyd’s The Wall in Berlin. Less sublime was the revelation that the dance-pop duo that formed Milli Vanilli had been miming to ‘their’ songs, which were in fact both written and recorded by other artists. In contrast to this nonsense, The Crowes went back to rock’s authentic roots that struck a vital chord with a whole new generation.
The album opens with the big, slow and dirty riff of Twice as Hard before Chris Robinson enters with the immortal lines: “Clean as a whistle, Smellin’ like a rose…” This pure rock track is followed by a harder cut, Jealous Again, which was the first single release and helped the whole record gain commercial traction. The next tracks Sister Luck and Could I’ve Been So Blind both provide solid and essential contributions, while the cover of Otis Redding’s Hard to Handle and Seeing Things also saw single success, with the former rising high on the US Billboard chart. The latter was less successful in commercial terms but is a heartbreak ballad that provides a necessary change of pace on the record. Much better received was the brilliant fourth single release, She Talks to Angels, which is an acoustic-driven number, possibly on a 1976 Guild F112 or Martin D-28, which talks about drug addiction and remorse. The track showcases Rich’s depth as a songwriter, demonstrated by lines such as “She keeps a lock of hair in her pocket, she wears a cross around her neck, the hair is from the little boy and the cross is someone she has not met, not yet…”
Towards the end come tracks like the great rock and blues number Thick n Thin, with its catchy guitar riff and Colt’s funky bass, and Stare it Cold, which makes you feel like you have been thrown into some deep southern bar where a serious scrap is brewing.
Shake Your Money Maker helped make The Black Crowes a stadium level band and led to a series of hugely successful albums, before the fire that drove this great rock n roll band began to burn just a bit too bright...