The Black Crowes Album Project: Lions (2001)

The Black Crowes Album Project:
Lions (2001)

Band Members:

Chris Robinson, vocals, harp
Rich Robinson, guitar, bass
Steve Gorman, drums
Audley Freed, guitar
Eddie Harsch, keys

Additional Musicians:

Craig Ross, lead guitar on “Greasy Grass River”
Maxine Waters, Oren Waters, Rose Stone and Julie Waters, background vocals

Produced by:

Don Was

Mitch’s Review:

Upon starting The Black Crowes Album Project I was never deluded enough to think that I would suddenly realize that By Your Side or Lions were underappreciated gems in the Crowes catalog. I was curious, however, to see which album I liked better. Now that the results are in I can safely declare Lions the winner by the slimmest of margins. Unfortunately, it’s a pyrrhic victory as Lions still doesn’t qualify as a good album. Like its predecessor it’s a half-good album, with 7 good to great songs and an astounding 6 dogs. One wishes that Rich would have programmed a keyboard hotkey for ‘delete’ on the old ProTools.

There’s a weird discord that runs through the album – it’s almost as if Rich wanted to make a straightforward guitar rock album but Chris just wasn’t into it. With a few notable exceptions, Chris’s lyrics are incredibly lazy. Musically, there are some solid riffs on Lions but they often fail to blossom into fully satisfying songs. A good example of this phenomenon is “Cypress Tree” which starts strong but doesn’t really go anywhere.

The best song on the album, “Lay It All On Me” would be a great epic on any of their albums. I gained a new appreciation for LIAOM after Chris busted it out when he was on tour with Phil Lesh. It’s a great tune. “Soul Singing” is a classic Crowes track that is well represented on the disc and provides a wonderful platform for some mind-bending jams live. And “Miracle to Me” is simply a beautiful ballad.

Lions also has the dubious distinction of delivering to us the worst Crowes song ever – the loathsome “Lickin’” of which the less said the better. (Except for the dance mix, to which I say “haw haw.”) Now, I can forgive experimental toss-offs like “Young Man, Old Man” and “Cosmic Friend,” which are fairly harmless tracks, but I have a harder time accepting indifferent songs like “No Use Lying” and “Midnight from the Inside Out.”

So let’s (thankfully) put the dark period of the Black Crowes (1998-2001) into perspective. Truth be told, one could take the best tracks from BYS and Lions, plus the solid material that ended up on the cutting-room floor (i.e. ‘Love Is Now’, ‘Last Time Again’) and easily create an album that would stand alongside the first 4. The Robinson brothers didn’t magically lose their songwriting abilities or musical talents in the late 90s, but they did lose a lot: two of the best musicians in the band, control of the sound/production and their sense of direction. But failure isn’t always the worst thing for an artist to endure (just ask Dylan). And I’m optimistic that the dark period of the Crowes will eventually be seen as a footnote, and not an epithet, to their career. Final Score: 2.7

1) Midnight from the Inside Out: 2
2) Lickin’: 1
3) Come On: 3
4) No Use Lying: 2
5) Losing My Mind: 3
6) Ozone Mama: 2
7) Greasy Grass River: 3
8) Soul Singing: 4
9) Miracle to Me: 4
10) Young Man, Old Man: 2
11) Cosmic Friend: 2
12) Cypress Tree: 3
13) Lay It All on Me: 4

Don’s review:

Shit.

[Aside from the crowd-pleasing “Soul Singing” and excellent ballad “Miracle to Me”, Lions was obviously made by a band that didn’t have its heart in it anymore. They didn’t bother to hire a bassist. They used inane effects like phones ringing on some numbers. Rich handled virtually every guitar (save for cups of coffee from Audley Freed and Craig Ross,) “played” bass on 12 of the tracks and even bumped Eddie Harsch to play piano on “Lay It All On Me”. Not even a Bob Dylan cameo on “No Use Lying” could save them. Even the Crowes sounded bored, recycling their own lyrics – the reference to “Remedy” in “Come On” – and riffs – “Cypress Tree’s” raping of the signature descending line from “No Speak No Slave”.]

Sandwich.

Final Score: 2.3 (rounding down for an album cover ALMOST as bad as By Your Side)

1) Midnight from the Inside Out: 3
2) Lickin’: 1
3) Come On: 2
4) No Use Lying: 2
5) Losing My Mind: 2
6) Ozone Mama: 1
7) Greasy Grass River: 3
8) Soul Singing: 4
9) Miracle to Me: 4
10) Young Man, Old Man: 2
11) Cosmic Friend: 1
12) Cypress Tree: 2
13) Lay It All on Me: 3

Previous Release: 1999′s By Your Side

Up Next: 2005′s The Lost Crowes 1 (Tall Sessions)

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

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