The Black Crowes – Lions – Review

The Black Crowes

Lions (V2)
by Brian Varney

Lions is the sixth (and apparently last) Black Crowes full-length and the second since the departure of lead guitar whiz Marc Ford. Debate continues to rage among the band’s fans whether Ford’s departure was the band’s unofficial death knell, but the fact remains that the band made three albums of astonishing depth and soul during Ford’s tenure and two uneven, generally-uninspired platters in the years since.

Lions is a step up from 1998’s By Your Side, but it falls far short of the band’s Ford-era masterpieces. A main drawback of both post-Ford albums, not surprisingly, is the lack of a powerful lead guitar presence. Rich Robinson, fine rhythm guitarist and songwriter though he may be, is not a lead guitarist, and the holes in songs like “Come On” where a ripping Ford solo would’ve made things perfect occur with grimacing frequency. The songwriting is more consistent than By Your Side, but it’s still rather hit-and-miss. There are good moments (“Cypress Tree,” “Midnight from the Inside Out”) and bad (“No Use Lying,” “Ozone Mama”) and most of the album is serviceable, but I remember when Crowes albums killed. From the band that made The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, mere serviceability is unacceptable.

I don’t want it to seem like the album is a complete washout, though. The band’s willingness to experiment with different tempos and textures is refreshing after the bland bar rock of By Your Side, even if several of these experiments aren’t particularly successful (such as Chris Robinson’s disastrous attempt at scat singing on “Ozone Mama”). And there are some really good songs on here – “Midnight from the Inside Out” is a tailor-made show-opener and “Soul Singing” is a cool summer-timey sort of thing that’d be a huge hit in a just world.

But the fact remains that this is not the band it once was. The three Marc Ford-era albums (Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, Amorica, and Three Snakes and One Charm, by the way) will be on my short list forever. Lions is something that will most likely gather dust on my CD shelf once I’ve given it a few more spins.
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