The Black Crowes: Join The Jubilee

By: Dennis Cook

Call out the instigators/ because there's something in the air/ We've got to get together sooner or later/ because the revolution's here/ And you know it's right/ and you know that it's right - Thunderclap Newman

Rich & Chris Robinson
Change is often sensed before it's spoken. It's "Something In The Air" as ol' Thunderclap points out, and if you lift your nostrils you'll pick up the scent on Warpaint, the first new studio release from The Black Crowes in seven years (arriving March 4 on the band's own newly-formed Silver Arrow Records). While the title may suggest a bellicose call-to-arms, it's really something more human and expressly compassionate they're trying to inspire.

"The days of people even thinking about some sort of conscious revolution or taking back responsibility and putting it in our laps as fathers and artists and people in love with the universe, well, those days of talking about revolution or utopia are long gone," says Chris Robinson, lead singer and one of the chief architects of the Crowes' music with his younger sibling, guitarist-singer Rich Robinson. "So, the next place is to make that come from within. If you can get into that, find your ground and your place, then the community around you starts to feel that and then you're making something from the ground up. And it's handmade; it's not something derived by some corporate means. It's something we're responsible for, the audience is responsible for, something you're responsible for, whether you listen to it alone or with your friends."

Warpaint is the rare combination of positivity and skepticism, often in the space of a single tune. It is the product of battered faith and surviving the rough, gnarled road to adulthood. Within this sphere of hard won maturity, they manage to carve out hope even when none seems present. Warpaint is the kind of record that makes you tear up and grin as it progresses, a friend on your turntable when no other can be found. In short, the sort of soul deep stuff The Black Crowes have been creating since they began 18 years ago. A thick coat of living now lies on top of their compelling recipe of blues grunt, folk lilt, R&B strut, country comfort and gospel reach salted with a dash of coliseum rock. Their latest is both the distillation of what has come before and the beginning of a new era.

Walk Believer Walk

Spend a few minutes talking with anyone in the band these days and you pick up on an electric current running between them. Their enthusiasm for sharing the new songs and new lineup with fans is palpable. Despite being almost two decades into the tough game of professional music, The Black Crowes sound like a bunch of delighted newbies to the biz.

The Black Crowes
"[Warpaint] definitely burst the dam on this stuff that'd been in our minds. Everyone's grown up a little and changed. We wondered where we were gonna be and boom, this is where we are," observes Chris. "I love The Black Crowes, and I'm always going to be interested in music and my creative process and the people I collaborate with. But, this whole project has made me unbelievably interested in what The Black Crowes really are for us and what it can be. How much more we give to it is how much more we get back. As time goes on, I feel more and more freedom to do all manner of things. This era has to be marked by a musical statement, and that's what Warpaint is. It's truly about freedom. The one thing I wish other musicians were inspired by in The Black Crowes is that. It's your commune, man. You can be your own Father Yod. Father Yod told everyone we're all God, and I'll simplify it by saying we all got a little Yod in us [laughs]."

"With computers and everything else that forces you inward, and as information grows and as the technology to communicate with each other grows, the feeling of isolation comes more and more into play," says Rich Robinson. "There needs to be a relatable force to people that really unites instead of divides. The beauty of relation – and music still does it – is it gets a mass group of people together to enjoy something simultaneously, which is a really heavy, faithful, spiritual thing."

In 2008, The Black Crowes are comprised of the Robinson brothers, Steve Gorman (drums), Sven Pipien (bass, vocals) and new members Adam MacDougal (keyboards) and guitarist Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars). Beyond the lyrical bent, there's a tremendous well of feeling to the playing of this configuration on Warpaint. Though a cliché, the fresh blood has clearly turned their collective crank.

"I remember sitting on the couch with Chris while Luther went over some guitar stuff, not even recording but just going over different possibilities for what the songs could be," recalls Sven Pipien. "We were both slackjawed, staring at this guy and realizing he's a true brother. The beauty of Luther is more than any note he's playing is the feeling behind that note. He was saying exactly what we want to say, and the same thing goes for Adam. Eddie [Harsch, the Crowes ex-keyboardist] is not the easiest guy to replace but Adam is his own man AND he fills those shoes really well. Going on the road with this record is a super exciting prospect. I was talking to Chris the other day about it and we're just beside ourselves to do this stuff live."

L. Dickinson & R. Robinson :: 01.19.07 by Rod Snyder
"When squabbles did arise in the studio, which with this band is possible any minute" chuckles Pipien, "Luther was the one, without even saying anything, just with a smile or the aura coming off of him, who subdued all negative spirits. Listen to me! For the record, I'm not a hippie. I've never been a hippie or ever will be one [laughs]."

Rehearsals for the spring tour, which will take them to Australia, London, Amsterdam and all over the U.S., begin next week in New Jersey. This will be the live debut for this lineup but a feeling of foundational rightness has infected each of them, erasing the nerves you might expect given circumstances.

"We want to go out there and play for people who love the songs. We want to go out and play for us. It's what we love to do, and it's what we've been doing since we were teenagers," Rich says. "Sometimes when new people come in it brings so many positive changes. Adam's solo when we've been playing 'Wiser Time' is fucking great! It's different but it fits and it's great. We love that. Songs needs to be juiced for us and hopefully also for the people who come see us and support us."

"Adam came in and tried out and everyone was impressed, but when we got into the studio everyone's jaws dropped. Then we got on tour with him and were excited to see what he'd do," Rich continues. "He comes in on the right moments similar to Ed but then takes it somewhere else when it's not an integral part of the song. That first night he played the solo on 'Wiser Time' and it just made me so fucking happy."

"One thing I appreciate about where we are is how we had the patience to NOT make a record last year," says Chris. "With a little bit of time and a little bit of wisdom – a very little bit – comes real patience. A lot of stuff has changed. We went through so many things when we got the band back together [in 2004 after a nearly four-year hiatus], and the people who weren't supposed to be here aren't here. They had their choices and we had our choices. This thing is here and either we love and nurture it, and in return it gives back to us, or we fuck around with it and it becomes like black magic, and that's something you don't want to deal with."

Continue reading for more on The Black Crowes...

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