I don’t listen to the Black Crowes. I know who they are, have a vague understanding that they had been around the block a few times, and generally have an idea of what kind of music they play. But aside from a cursory listen through 2008’s Warpaint, the seminal post-Lynyrd Skynyrd Southern rock group had completely eluded me. Hell, until I looked down the track list of Croweology, I thought “She Talks to Angels” was a Counting Crows song.
And yet, here it is—a two-disc rework and condensation of the bands’ roots rock hits from the 90s and early 2000s. Croweology is certainly a sight to behold. At over two hours in length, the albums sheer mass should be enough to ward off uninitiated Crowes listeners. The payoff for longtime fans is obvious—this is a reward to devoted listeners for services rendered during the eight-year interim when the Crowes didn’t release a single LP. But the goods provided to a casual listener are less obvious and sometimes less than arresting when discovered. But at its base, The Black Crowes deliver a strange conflagration of Bruce Springsteen’s The Seeger Sessions and the Foo Fighters’ Skin + Bones. It is a cocktail that works, even when it seems like it shouldn’t.
Croweology boasts more of itself than the traditional greatest hits record. Singer Chris Robinson and brother/guitarist Rich Robinson are still at the core, but the supporting cast has drastically changed since the landmark record Shake Your Money Maker in 1990, a fact evident given the tempered, but apparent reshuffling of the “Jealous Again” cards. But the positivity given off from such a stellar opening track is blunted by what follows. The Crowes have made a calling card out of bluesy rock that rolls on and on until the 5-minute mark is a distant road sign, but in this massive clearing house form, it’s a feat just to get through the first disc in one sitting. Songs like the Marc Cohn-ish gospel “Soul Singing” keep the vibe going, only to be retarded by an aimless ballad “Wiser Time,” which is itself only a footnote to a better, slower and more purposeful ballad “Ballad in Urgency.” Chronological sequencing can batter a disc like this, and with many of the acoustic reworks sounding a lot alike, Croweology only grows more dauntingly unrelenting with each listen.
This is not to say that the songwriting is anything less than a premium. The more bluesy stompers like “Share the Ride,” “Downtown Money Waster” and “Hotel Illness” are fit for Sons Of Anarchy’s more raucous moments, as the outlaw biker show has typically embraced folksy rock n’ roll as its backing music. Beautiful, subtle moments like “Under a Mountain” and the oddly present Graham Parsons cover “She” are fit for SoA’s intimate montages as well. While loyal fans will rightly eat up Croweology for its myriad merits, casual fans might do well to pick and choose their favorites, as a complete listen through the massive record can leave one exhausted of the Crowes well-established formula.