The Black Crowes’ Warpaint earns 4 out of 5 stars
With 2008’s Warpaint, The Black Crowes redefined their already hazy musical parameters with a country/blues/hard rock release that broke a seven-year studio silence for the Georgia boys. With the addition of slide guitar virtuoso Luther Dickenson (North Mississippi All-Stars) filling the shoes of fan favorite Marc Ford, and keyboardist Adam MacDougall stepping in for long-time member Ed Harsch, the new Crowes sound succeeded in hitting that difficult mark of inventive roots rock.
April’s Warpaint Live confirms what die-hard fans (and band members) have preached throughout the Crowes’ 20+ year stint of making the good noise: The Black Crowes are a band to be experienced live. Members have honed their improvisational chops to a razor’s edge, and almost every track on this release outshines its studio doppelganger.
Recorded on March 20th, 2008 at the Wilhelm in Los Angeles, Warpaint Live catches one of the many shows the Crowes played immediately after Warpaint’s studio release, featuring the new album in its entirety followed by a set of covers and selections from the Crowes’ back catalogue. Singer Chris Robinson’s vocals are noticeably grittier than on the source material, adding a raw texture that perfectly compliments the lumbering blues trudge of “Walk Believer Walk” and the rock’n’roll gallop of “Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution.”
Brother Rich Robinson’s guitar plays the same role it always has: blurring the line between rhythm and lead, a term Keith Richards dubbed “the ancient art of weaving.” The second thread in that tapestry, provided by Dickenson’s velvet or molten (depending on the song) slide licks, sounds just as home with the psychedelic, Zeppelin-esque “Move It On Down the Line” as it does with the feel-good dijembe trot of the studio closer, “Whoa Mule.” Hearing how far Dickenson had come in the short interval of the studio recording and this live offering shows the new guitarist quickly establishing his niche in the band.
The album isn’t without flaw. Just as on the studio release, “God’s Got It,” a cover of an old Reverend Charlie Jackson staple, is too repetitive in lyric and structure to be redeemed by hot axe play. Likewise, the lyrics of “Evergreen” seem cliché and stifled- “Evergreen, evergreen, prettiest thing I’ve ever seen” smacks of bad high-school poetry, not Robinson’s usual eloquent stanzas. Thankfully, all is forgiven with “Oh Josephine,” boasting some of Chris’ finest ballad lyrics to date coupled with the most soulful solos of the entire album.
The second disc holds a few stellar covers, stand-outs being a dead-on rendition of The Rolling Stones’ “Torn and Frayed” and a kick-in-the-teeth romp through Moby Grape’s “Hey Grandma.” Rounding out the auxiliary disc is the never-released Crowes original, “Darling of the Underground Press,” a better version of which is tough to find, even in the Crowes’ leviathan live archives.
If Warpaint was a wry smile from the ever-changing Black Crowes, Warpaint Live is that same smile, sans brushing for about a week. All the more reason to don your Warpaint and join the jubilee.
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