Review Summary: A rampaging groove saturated hard rock staple.
Over the course of 19 years and 8 studio albums, the Black Crowes, and more notably the brothers Chris and Rich Robinson, have undergone myriad changes in sound and image. Although their chops have always been steeped in roots rock and power blues, the band has altered its style several times, making it difficult to effectively view them with any sort of lasting consistency. Over the years, with the gradual development of respective egos that can be seen from space, the brothers Robinson have attempted to transform themselves with varying degrees of success.
Despite the inconsistencies, there was a time when the Black Crowes knew how to rock. Before infighting that made Liam and Noel Gallagher look like the second coming of the Jonas brothers, before Chris decided to become a barefoot hippie and transform his hard rock outfit into a quasi art rock/stoner jam band, and long before they took themselves too seriously, the Black Crowes were one of the best hard rock bands on the planet. Their debut album, “Shake Your Moneymaker,” entered the scene with a widespread force. Led by an overwhelmingly strong set of singles and an undeniable swagger that rivaled “Exile on Main Street” era Stones, “Shake Your Moneymaker” eventually went triple platinum in the US and stands as one of the more successful and arguably one of the best debut albums in rock history.
There is nothing complicated about “Shake Your Moneymaker.” The album is a straight to the point rollicking groove saturated opus dripping with swagger. Combining tight musicianship with true rock passion, hooks that could snare a Brontosaurus, and a cocksure young man’s attitude, “Shake Your Moneymaker” is a power blues clinic. The band would later experiment widely in different genres, adding a greater sense of variety and musical depth to subsequent releases, but never again did they capture the raw power that is in full display on their debut. It is by far their simplest album, and it is also their best.
From the opening dirty riff of “Twice as Hard” to the final cataclysm of “Stare it Cold,” the Crowes take us on a southern fried bar drenched journey where the blues are alive and not a note is wasted. “Twice as Hard,” with its slow burning groove, is a strong album opener that slides perfectly into “Jealous Again,” one of the better hard rock songs of the decade. Rich Robinson’s guitar on both tracks and throughout the album is driving yet subtle. There is no sense of virtuosic wankery; rather, Robinson chose to showcase his ability to create genius out of simplicity. The groove thrust forth by the guitar sound is the driving force of the album, while Chris’ struttin’ cock attitude brings the finished package home. “Hard to Handle” is a perfect example, with Chris having zero difficulty pulling off the required confidence to bring legitimacy to the lyrics and theme of the song.
While “Jealous Again,” and “Hard to Handle” were a large part of the commercial meat of the album, lesser known tracks like “Could I Have Been So Blind” and “Sister Luck” add an essential component to the album, namely ensuring a lack of filler. Where “Jealous Again” was written to be a radio staple and a crowd pleaser, tracks like “Thick n Thin” and “Stare it Cold” come across as the soundtrack to a bar fight. Forget Jeff Healy, the early Black Crowes should have been the house band in “Roadhouse.” Overall, while the degree of success varies from track to track, the hard rocking numbers are all solid, and bear the mark of a band that for a short period of time knew exactly what it was doing, and did it better than anyone else at the time.
Despite the success of the aforementioned tracks, the album wouldn’t be complete without the requisite change of pace. Among the beer soaked carnage of the more up tempo tracks are the inclusion of two memorable power ballads. The first, “Seeing Things,” is located at the middle part of the album and provides a change of pace that works well. Driven by a quiet and simple picking pattern complimented with piano, “Seeing Things” is a deeply introspective song that is easily relatable to anyone who has had a failed relationship. Although “Seeing Things” is a memorable ballad, it pales in comparison to the masterpiece of the album, the brilliantly constructed “She Talks to Angels,” arguably the band’s signature song. Driven by a gorgeous open E tuned acoustic guitar, “She Talks to Angels” is a stunning display of musicianship and word craft that holds up as well today as it did 19 years ago. A song about crushing drug addiction with a slight hint of redemption and remorse, the track is one of the better power ballads of the past 25 years, and is probably the most essential track in the band’s catalog.
The Black Crowes would expand their horizons to a varying degree of success after “Shake Your Moneymaker.” Although they would release strong albums in the future, they would also prove to lose something along the way. The debut album is devoid of pretentiousness and self importance. It places emphasis on attitude and legitimizing rock n roll over creative posturing and the concept of crafting “art.” Before Rich and Chris tried to transform into the Southern US version of Oasis, they were once the best bar band in the world. That theme is captured perfectly on this album, and renders it an essential hard rock release.
She Talks to Angels
Twice As Hard
Thick n Thin
Could I Have Been So Blind