The Black Crowes Album Project: Amorica (1994)

The Black Crowes Album Project:
Amorica (1994)


Band Members:

Chris Robinson, vocals, harp
Rich Robinson, guitar
Steve Gorman, drums
Johnny Colt, bass
Marc Ford, guitar
Eddie Harsch, keys

Additional Musicians:

Jimmy Ashurst, mandolin
Eric Bobo, percussion
Andy Sturmer, assorted musical gifts
Bruce Kaphan, pedal steel

Produced by:

Jack Joseph Puig and The Black Crowes

Mitch’s Review:

The rap on The Black Crowes was always that they were a derivative band, dismissed by many critics as the unholy offspring of the Stones and the Faces – the former based on the sound of Rich Robinson’s guitar and the later based on the sound of Chris Robinson’s voice. To a certain extent the criticism was warranted. The Black Crowes have always embraced and celebrated their influences and their musical progenitors can be clearly heard on their first two albums, 1990’s Shake Your Money Maker and 1992’s The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion. The irony, of course, is that precisely when popular culture stopped paying attention to the Black Crowes was precisely when they delivered the unmistakable, wholly-original and genre-defying collection that is 1994’s Amorica. Unfortunately, not enough people noticed to give them credit for their efforts.

Where Southern Harmony was a near-perfect example of “classic” rock music defined by the guitars – the big Rich Robinson riffs and the devastating Marc Ford solos, Amorica is largely defined by rhythm and percussion. The sound laid down by Steve Gorman dominates and drives most tracks on the album. Amorica is Steve Gorman’s masterpiece.

The songs on Amorica are uniformly terrific. There is no filler to be found here. While certain tracks like “Gone”, “She Gave Good Sunflower”, “P. 25 London” and “Downtown Money Waster” slightly miss the mark, they’re all still quite successful, as there are memorable aspects to every track on the album.

The best songs on Amorica successfully take The Black Crowes to another dimension. There’s an epic quality to songs like “Cursed Diamond”, “Ballad in Urgency” and “Descending” that is so powerful that the songs have lost no energy or magic even after 15 years. They’re timeless. Amorica also delivers the signature Black Crowes composition “Wiser Time,” which in theme, sound and performance is the quintessential Black Crowes song.

Amorica can’t be categorized into any specific musical genre. It alternates between being bluesy, funky, tender, heavy, majestic, soulful, angry, dark, sweet, soaring and beautiful. It’s just Black Crowes music. While Southern Harmony may be their most complete album, Amorica clearly represents their creative peak. It’s a risky and experimental album that wasn’t afraid to explore the dark shadows within the soul – but I’ll save that particular theme for our discussion of Tall in a few weeks. Final Score: 3.6

1) Gone: 3
2) A Conspiracy: 4
3) High Head Blues: 4
4) Cursed Diamond: 4
5) Nonfiction: 4
6) She Gave Good Sunflower: 3
7) P. 25 London: 3
8) Ballad in Urgency: 4
9) Wiser Time: 4
10) Downtown Money Waster: 3
11) Descending: 4

Don’s review:

When Amorica was released in the Fall of 1994, it was emphatic, undeniable PROOF that The Black Crowes had been mislabeled by critics as 70s poseurs. They were their own band, doing their own thing and they did not give a damn what anyone else thought. Looking back, it’s not the least bit ironic that this record, launched during the heyday of “alternative” music, actually may have been one of the most alternative of the decade.

Amorica was a sharp turn from the Stax-By-Way-of-Atlanta-Southern-Rock of Shake Your Money Maker and Swampy-Swaggering-Muscle Shoals-Sound of The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion. It was so different that it took a few spins to get used to. But the more it plays, the more the listener appreciates the complex arrangements and brilliance of Rich and Chris Robinson. This is Chris at his lyrical peak and Rich at his most creative and ambitious.

Listening today, it’s impossible overlook the genius of Ed Harsch, whose keys are prominent on virtually every track, from the tear drops of “Nonfiction” to the poignant intro and coda of “Descending”. The rhythm section is also in top form, and the interplay of Marc Ford and Rich Robinson is right up there with any guitar combo in rock history.

Unfortunately, as the finished-then-scrapped album Tall revealed when released a decade later, the Crowes left much better songs on the cutting room floor than Amorica’s horrid “P.25 London” and “Downtown Money Waster”, the latter of which is infinitely better in its live arrangement than on this recording. Final Score: 3.2

1) Gone: 3
2) A Conspiracy: 3
3) High Head Blues: 4
4) Cursed Diamond: 4
5) Nonfiction: 4
6) She Gave Good Sunflower: 3
7) P.25 London: 1
8) Ballad In Urgency: 3
9) Wiser Time: 4
10) Downtown Money Waster: 2
11) Descending: 4

Previous Release: 1992′s The Southern Harmony & Musical Companion

Up Next: 1996′s Three Snakes and One Charm

To learn more about The Black Crowes Album Project, please read the introduction.

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Comments

The Black Crowes Album Project: Amorica (1994) — 1 Comment

  1. After the massive one-two punch & staggering brilliance of SYMM & TSHAMC Amorica was a bit of a disappointment to me when it came out in 1994. Dark, sprawling, sloppy, & at first seeming more derivative of many 70s rockers than the first two albums, (listen to how “Gone” at first has the feel of a Santana like groove or “High Head Blues” almost sounds like a cliche at first), it didn’t hit me the same way those first two albums had. I liked it, (& loved “Nonfiction”, “Cursed Diamond” & Descending”), a lot, but I felt is was a lesser effort, with somewhat weaker songwriting.

    I still listened to it a good bit though, getting more & more into it’s grooves & textures, & about two years after it’s release I really got deeply into it one day & realized it greatness. In it’s own way it’s a perfect bookend to TSHAMC, with so many brilliant moments, riffs, lyrics & styles that jump out at you without you’re expecting them. From then on I was just as hooked on it as I was the first two albums.

    I still think that TSHAMC is their best album, but Amorica is their most original, interesting & experiemental & is just as pleasurable & fulfilling as TSHAMC or SYMM. Simply essential.

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