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Southern-fried:
The Black Crowes Rock Again
By Ronald Sitton

ARTIST: The Black Crowes
ALBUM: By Your Side
RATING: ****

The Black Crowes are back to greasy, Southern-fried Rock with their fifth release, By Your Side. It is a "Welcome Home!" for all Crowes fans who have been patiently waiting for these Georgia boys to return to the roots that first enthralled us. Not that their past two releases were bad by any means, but this is the follow-up we'd been expecting since The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion.

     Known as "The World's Most Rock 'n' Roll Rock 'n' Roll Band," the Crowes — Chris Robinson, vocals; Rich Robinson, guitars, vocals; Steve Gorman, drums; Eddie Harsch, keyboards; bassist Sven Pipien; and touring guitarist Audley Freed — are once again set to continue their reign as the South's best answer to rock 'n' roll since Skynard's heyday in the 1970s. Their live shows have always had that feel. Now, the studio brings it back out.

     If you've been waiting (as I have) for the Crowes to completely jam, this is the album to buy. By Your Side starts rockin' and seldom slows, beginning with "Go Faster," a tune urging listeners to press the limits bounding our space. The beat rolls into a huge crescendo as the Robinson brothers give us our fix. Just as we're ready for the wave to crash, they jump into "Stop Kickin' My Heart Around," a rocker lamenting the painful, inevitable conclusion of a love gone bad. As the boys tell us, many bad relationships have no explanation, only the realization when both involved feel it go south.

     Things slow just a little for "By Your Side," a ballad reminding us that music is the mood change available for any emergency, whether it be a heartbreak or getting screwed by your friends. This could also turn into one of those 1990s' friend themes. "Horsehead" is a menacing, gospel-tinged rocker that has the power of a good, Southern hellfire-and-brimstone pastor letting the congregation know trouble waits for those who refuse to live by the "Good Book." The choir reminds us "You are blessed with just one life . . . . Jesus gave until he died" — and admonishes us to do the same.

     The band's first single, "Only A Fool," was made for radio play — granted, something that has to be done, but this sappy love song doesn't really fit the album. It seems the boys are having a good joke with us. There is a nice horn section and a lovely fade-out into a gospel feel. "Heavy" shuffles along with just enough funk to make you move. Of course, the title is reminiscent of the Beatles' "She's So Heavy," doffing the hat to an influence felt in Three Snakes and One Charm. If you liked "Blackberry" from that album, or any of their other flirtatious ballads, you'll love this.

     "Welcome to the Goodtimes" lays back and consoles us for not being always on top of life, but also gives hope that everything will come out in the wash. By the way, I love the Dixieland feel of the horns in this tune. Chris Robinson gets a chance to exhort his followers to rid all problems by turning them over for absolution in "Go Tell the Congregation." Just in case we might think some sins are worse than others, he leaves us with one thought: Everything is everything.

     "Diamond Ring" and "Then She Said My Name" are another couple of love songs, but don't fault them for that. Both have a soulful feel reminiscent of another reverend — Al Green. If all relationships were this good, everybody would be getting married. Finishing up, the boys hand us some excellent 1970s-style rock with "Virtue and Vice." Chris Robinson doesn't tell us if one is better than the other; he just notes that life's full of the good and the bad. By Your Side is a future classic rockin' today.

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