The Black Crowes
"Hallelujah, come join the jubilee."
That's the invitation that opens Warpaint, the first new studio recording in seven years from the blessed The Black Crowes, true believers in rock's power and potential to set us free. Their powerful new album--the first on the band's own Silver Arrow Records, distributed through Megaforce/Sony Red BMG--builds compellingly on the band’s trademark adventurous brew of rock, blues, country, soul and gospel, and finds the band in top fighting form.
"Warpaint is a declaration of our soulful independence," says Chris Robinson, the creative force behind this band with his brother Rich for the past 18 years. "The thing about the last three years has been, 'How do we continue to be independent? How do we begin to exercise control and freedom over our own trip?' That's what the title is all about."
"Every record was a great experience to get us to where we are today," says Rich Robinson. “This is what we love to do, and we want to do it the best we can. That's what's in this record and I think that shows."
Today, anyone checking in on “The Most Rock ‘N Roll Rock ‘N Roll Band In The World," as the U.K.’s Melody Maker once called them, will find The Black Crowes more dedicated than ever to their craft which has resulted in a body of work with sales of 20 million albums worldwide. Warpaint is the band’s seventh studio recording and features 11 songs--all of which were written by Chris and Rich Robinson, except “God’s Got It” by the Reverend Charlie Jackson. The disc, which features such standout songs as first single “Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution,” “Oh Josephine,” “Locust Street” and “Walk Believer Walk,” hums with an apostolic zeal appropriate to a record that often delves into the things we place our faith in.
"If someone hears Warpaint and they like rock n' roll music, it's going to mean something to them," says Chris. "People have wondered if it's a political record or if these are protest songs. I say no, my politics are the politics of beauty. And if that's something you're into then you have to understand the myriad of shades we have in something beautiful–from joy to pain to sorrow, from tenderness to ugliness. All those things are in there."
Says Rich: "You listen to Dylan, you listen to Bob Marley, you listen to anything, from blues to up until now, and really the things that last and mean something are beautiful songs about universal themes that mean something about the integrity of human beings, about love, about passion--all the great virtues we sort of lost through technology and TV and self-absorption.”
The Black Crowes are Chris (vocals), Rich (guitars), Steve Gorman (drums) and Sven Pipien (bass)--and Warpaint introduces new members Adam MacDougall (keyboards) and guitarist Luther Dickinson, known for his work in the North Mississippi All-Stars and The Word, where he performs with Robert Randolph and John Medeski (of Medeski, Martin & Wood).
"Luther couldn't have complimented the material or what the band does any better," says Chris. “And what Adam has brought to the band is equally a gift to our music." Rich continues, "Luther fit in before he even plugged in to play.&nb sp; He comes from where we come from, he loves the music we love, and he brought so much new to our songs. Same thing goes for Adam. Bringing them in--their energy, playing and approach--just made it so seamless and great. The first week we were in the studio we recorded the majority of the album. We just knocked it out."
Paul Stacey, who's worked with Chris for years and played guitar with the band for a (by design) temporary period before Dickinson joined, produced the new album, which came to life at Allaire Studios at the foot of the Catskills in upstate New York. Not far from Woodstock, the live-in facility has been the birth place in recent years for My Morning Jacket's Z, Ray Lamontagne's Till The Sun Turns Black, Martha Wainwright's debut and many other resonant modern gems. Warpaint easily joins this lineage, a work of instant depth and unrestrained gusto.
"It's a little more self-assured, and has a bit more swagger,” enthuses Chris about where the new album fits into the band’s body of work. “Not since Southern Harmony have we had such a crystal clear picture of where we are and where we're going.” Rich picks it up, "Allaire is stunningly beautiful, so quiet and isolated…It brings a focus and inspiration to what you're doing. You do draw from the place where you are."
Right from their start in 1990—with their six million-selling Shake Your Money Maker, a pivotal work that kick started an authentic style of rock and roll in America—The Black Crowes have been at odds with prevailing commercial trends. Their heady mix of '70s inflected rock, Funkadelic soul and heartfelt roots music jostled against the hair metal and high-gloss pop getting airplay at the start of that decade. While the sheer attitude and charm of "Hard To Handle" and "Twice As Hard" managed to make waves, the intervening years have seen the band steadily evolve an increasingly refined, singular sound that takes the best parts of hard rock, gospel, country, psychedelia and anything else it fancies into their hungry maw to create something several light years beyond the young men who recorded "She Talks To Angels."
"Even in our most commercially successful period,” says Chris, “there was nothing like us on any format. By the time grunge happened, Southern Harmony (1992) and amorica (1994) didn't fit into any part of popular music. We looked different, we sounded different, and we set up our culture a little different," he adds. "Everybody who wanted to bag us because they thought they knew what we were missed out on a lot of good music, good concerts and a band that, even at our weirdest, had something to say."
The Black Crowes not only had something to say; they became known as as one of rock’s best live acts and have been called a “thoroughbred American rock ‘n’ freakin’ roll band.” Their panoramic live shows feature alternating set lists and signature incendiary musical explorations that are designed to take audiences on a journey.
The band took a break starting in late 2001 which turned out to be a four-year-hiatus. Then, on January 11, 2005, The Black Crowes announced their highly anticipated and long-awaited return to the live concert stage with five special shows at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom (March 22-30, 2005). All five concerts—billed by brothers Chris and Rich Robinson as ‘’All Join Hands”--sold out instantly, marking the fas test New York sell-out that The Black Crowes have experienced to date. To meet the absolutely overwhelming fan demand, two more shows were added at Hammerstein. And those sold out. Total tickets sold in New York City: 22,000. Clearly, The Black Crowes were back.
Since then, the touring dynamos have explored their extensive catalog on main stages from Bonnaroo to the Voodoo Music Experience to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, celebrating nearly two decades of "Cosmic Rock-n-Roll" in front of sold-out audiences everywhere. The Black Crowes are one of the few acts to emerge in the early '90s still thriving today. And fewer still can claim to have shared the stage with Jimmy Page, AC/DC, Bob Dylan, Grateful Dead, Aerosmith, The Rolling Stones, Neil Young and The Who. Like these legends, The Black Crowes create music that endures because it speaks to more than momentary concerns.
Now, with Warpaint, The Black Crowes are ready to tour the world, bringing their Freak N’ Roll to the devoted fans that have embraced them. As always, The Black Crowes continue to do things their own way.