Home Read Classic Album Review: Black Crowes | By Your Side

Classic Album Review: Black Crowes | By Your Side

The Southern rockers drop a few members & pick up the tempo on their fifth album.

This came out in 1999 – or at least that’s when I got it. Here’s what I said about it back then (with some minor editing):


It’s about friggin’ time.

For years now, as hip-hop and electronica have taken over, folks have been wondering if rock was finally dead. And it did look a little green around the gills in ’98, after that string of big-time, big-label disappointments from the likes of Hole, R.E.M., Smashing Pumpkins and Marilyn Manson. But just when you thought it was all over, here comes the cavalry — armed with Les Pauls, haircuts and attitudes — to rescue, resurrect and revive good old three-chord rock ’n’ roll.

And who’da thunk it? It turns out music’s saviours are none other than Atlanta’s Black Crowes, whose last few albums of lethargic, dope-fuelled jams haven’t exactly breathed new life into rock over the last while. Thankfully, they’ve put down the bong, dropped a few members and picked up the tempo on By Your Side, their fifth album. All this change has done the Crowes nothing but good; just two weeks into ’99, they’ve released a CD that sounds like it could be one of the best albums of the year.

Maybe that’s because it sounds a lot like some of the best albums of other years: it has the pub rock of Rod Stewart’s Every Picture Tells A Story, the funky swagger of The Rolling StonesSticky Fingers and the bluesy boogie of Aerosmith’s Get Your Wings. Sure, this is the same vein the Crowes been mining off and on since Day 1 — but this time they’ve hit the mother lode.

The restructuring of the band seems to have spurred co-leaders Chris and Rich Robinson to focus, and they’ve risen to the challenge admirably. Rich’s chunky, Chuck Berry guitar lines are razor-sharp and biting; they’re the engine that drives these rollicking tunes. Meanwhile, Chris sings every line as if he’s decked out head to toe in satin, feather boas and turquoise — which, come to think of it, he probably is.

And why shouldn’t he dress like a classic rocker? The entire disc is festooned with classic rock, from the blistering Keith Richards guitar line of leadoff track Go Faster and the Stax/Volt horn lines of Only A Fool right down to Chris’s hippie-dippie lyrics (“What can I say? / I want you to stay / You’re so heavy”).

The real secret to their success, though — and the biggest treat — is the instrumentation: Track after track of Hammond B-3 organ, wah-wah pedals, slide guitars, soulful backup vocals and handclaps. There isn’t a drum machine, tape loop or trendy sample in sight. Just real songs played by real musicians with real instruments.

In these days of turntable scratching and synth effects, it’s a welcome, much-needed breath of fresh air.