The Black Crowes were always on my radar, beginning with their hit single, “Hard to Handle“. Chris Robinson’s screechy pipy voice singing Otis Redding deserved my attention. At the time of that song’s release, I was cutting my teeth on a heavy dose of Led Zeppelin, so it was not that hard of a stretch for me to segue to these modern rockers with old school musical sensibilities.
But, it wasn’t until around December 1995, when I was listening to the radio on my Walkman, and the Crowes’ “Conspiracy“, a song off their Amorica album, played as I walked to the mall to pick up some groceries one evening. I had heard the song before, countless times, and I liked it, but it didn’t stick with me…until it did! I don’t know if it was the wet snow, or the mildness of the weather, or that dusk was falling, but that night, I paid attention to that song. It seeped its way into my soul, and I fell in lust with it.
I didn’t actually get my own copy of Amorica until the summer of 1996, and it was my first Crowes album. A University student on a limited budget, I often perused the used CD shops in town for discounted music. Dr. Disc in downtown London, Ontario was where I would covet my own copy of Amorica – and I still have it to this day. Memory serves me well too, that the Black Crowes stirred a little controversy around the cover of Amorica, and little naive me, I didn’t understand it initially. I mean, my album cover showed an American flag…what’s the big deal? Yeah, the big deal was over the fact that I owned a copy of the album, whose cover had been censored. The actual uncensored cover is of a woman’s crotch, endowed in a American flag string bikini…and let’s put it out there: the girl’s “hair” is billowing out the top of the hem. The censors couldn’t take the camel toe, so they blackened out all the naughty bits. The info I have on this says the censored cover was meant to be sold in big box stores in the United States…my copy is from Scarborough, Ontario, so that censorship extended north of the border too. Whatever. The camel toe police will be happy to know that the true uncensored Amorica album cover lives on on my iPod Touch every time a song from that album plays. So there!
Amorica is in my top list of favourite albums ever. The LP is completely listenable from start to finish, and each song blends into the next, making Amorica an album that sounds disjointed on an iPod shuffle, but perfect in every other way possible. Beginning with the kick-in-the-teeth rocker, Gone, and then perfectly sliding into that familiar hard-hitting tune, Conspiracy.
Onward to the third song, High Head Blues. A cool little ditty that starts out funky, and then just as quickly turns into hard rocker. This one is one of my favourites from the album. It combines an eclectic mix of percussion, electric guitar, organ, and a punch to the face.
Things slow down in a hard rock ballad in the fourth song, Cursed Diamond. This song has Robinson crooning away on the mike..and me crooning in the car (That’s right, apologies to those stopped for the red at the intersection of Hwy 27 and Steeles…).
“Roll me in your splendor, I’ll envy your surrender and show you victory…”
Things are stripped down to the bare essentials in the fifth track, Nonfiction, a warm piece that reminds you of those lazy summer porch days. You will need the breather because track six, She Gives Good Sunflower ramps up to a fantastic screecher that only Chris Robinson can deliver. Then off to the races as the Crowes give us yet another rocker in P. 25 London. But, don’t worry, it’s not all hard beats.
Tracks eight and nine, Ballad in Urgency and Wiser Time respectively, are those songs that I keep coming back to again and again. There is something about them that gives me comfort to listen to them. Ballad in Urgency is a dreamscape of a song with a lovely guitar that sings as much as Robinson does. Completely listenable…and singable (there we go again!). The song is joined by a drumbeat to Wiser Time, blending the two perfectly. This ninth track is a smooth road trip track, combining steel guitar and organ with beautiful lyrics to match. The song is almost too perfect!
“No time left for shame, horizon behind me no more pain
Windswept stars blink and smile, another song another mile”
The saloon-stylin’ Downtown Money Waster, track ten on Amorica, is an unexpected tune that combines slide guitar with piano. A fun little ditty.
And finally, track eleven, Descending, in the same vein as Ballad in Urgency, is a passionate song that really showcases the band’s talent for beautiful song writing and performance. The keyboard stylings in this song alone almost make me want to pick up the piano again (haha, almost!).
“Have mercy baby, I’m descending again
Open your eyes baby, this time it’s sink or it’s swim”
Amorica is an absolutely delicious album that still gets heavy rotation on my iPod. I never get tired of it. I truly recommend it if you haven’t listened to this sweet record.
The Black Crowes: Amorica