From the very start there was a battle being fought within the Black Crowes; a bitter sibling rivalry between Chris Robinson, the cocky singer for whom prodigious dope smoking lacked a calming effect, and Rich Robinson, the moody guitarist and primary songwriter whose sullen expression suggested that he’d rather be anywhere else but at his brother’s side.
As drummer and co-founding member Steve Gorman wrote in his 2019 memoir Hard To Handle: “A good day in the Black Crowes was just a day that wasn’t bad.” But whatever bullshit was going down, when it came to making music the brothers had a deep connection. And what they created with 1990’s Shake Your Money Maker was one of the all-time great debut albums in American rock’n’roll
Released on Rick Rubin’s Def American label, and produced expertly by Rubin’s right-hand man George Drakoulias, Shake Your Money Maker was an anomaly in an era when hair-metal was still big business and alternative rock was on the rise.
The Crowes had a sound that was both all-American and evocative of the great British groups that had channelled American rock’n’roll, blues and soul in the late 60s and early 70s, notably the Rolling Stones, the Faces and Humble Pie.
But the Crowes were a young band, with all the energy that comes with youth; a tight unit, with Gorman and bassist Johnny Colt a swinging rhythm section, and second guitarist Jeff Cease an adept foil for ‘young’ Rich.
What elevated Shake Your Money Maker above mere pastiche, and turned it into a multimillion seller, was a handful of great songs. Twice As Hard was the perfect opening track, a swaggering statement of intent. Jealous Again rolled like the Faces. She Talks To Angels, one of three beautiful slow numbers, was a masterpiece, their Wild Horses.
A cover of Otis Redding’s soul stomper Hard To Handle – initially considered a throwaway, a B-side at best – became the breakthrough hit single.
This 30th anniversary box set also includes a bunch of out-takes – one of which, Charming Mess, is essentially Rod Stewart’s Hot Legs with different words – and early demos from when the band were still called Mr. Crowe’s Garden.
Best of all is a 14-track full set from the Atlanta, Georgia band’s homecoming show on the Money Maker tour, with them on a high and the atmosphere triumphant. But of course, being the Black Crowes, that feeling wouldn’t last.