The Black Crowes may have been a band born out of time, but it was always their refusal to acknowledge that the 1970s had ended that made them so uniquely compelling. When they burst onto the scene with their raucous, Led Zeppelin-inspired debut in 1990, they seemed headed straight for the stadiums. As it turned out, they never managed to capitalize on that initial promise, with constant personnel changes, a frontman who could flip from charming to cantankerous from one moment to the next, and a series of lengthy hiatuses taking its toll on their commercial prospects. For all that, they’ve still managed to sell over 30 million records, winning millions of fans over with their vintage swagger. Here’s how we rank all the Black Crowes albums from worst to best.
Depending on your perspective, Lions is either the best Aerosmith album they never recorded or the biggest Led Zeppelin copycat in history. Either way, it’s an album where the band’s influences are pushed to the forefront, often to the cost of any real originality. There’s plenty of energy, superb vocals, and some very funky riffs, but for all the strength of tracks like Losing My Mind and Young Man, Old Man, the lack of innovation is a hurdle that’s impossible to clear. The Crowes’ deliberate disregard for anything that’s happened since the end of the ’70s is always what’s made them so unique, but here, they come off as second-rate imitators. Released in May 2001, the album peaked at number 20 on the Billboard 200 and number 37 on the UK Albums Chart.
7. Three Snakes and One Charm
Chris Robinson has described Three Snakes and One Charm as his favorite album. Even the most devoted Black Crowes fan would struggle to agree with him. Coming off the back of three strong albums, it had a lot to live up to, something its erratic song choices and lack of punchy hooks failed to do. The monotonous production doesn’t exactly help matters either. It’s not a complete travesty – the musicianship is on point and the more straightforward songs like Under a Mountain and Girl From a Pawnshop work well – but there are too many curveballs and too much self-conscious eclecticism for the album to work as a whole. Released in July 1996, it charted at number 15 on the Billboard 200 and number 17 on the UK Albums Chart.
6. By Your Side
As Louder Sound explains, following the band’s move to Columbia and the departures of guitarist Marc Ford and bassist Johnny Colt, pressure began to mount on the band to produce another radio-friendly album in the same vein as Shake Your Money Maker. According to Chris Robinson (who’s described the making of the album as the worst period of his life), “It was the only time we put down our instinctual defenses and listened to other people.” But while the band might not have been happy making it, their return to the more straightforward style of their debut works well. Described by The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel as “45 minutes of good, dirty fun,” its laser-sharp focus and ability to showcase the band’s diverse influences without mimicking them are commendable, covering over the cracks of the weaker song choices to deliver a thoroughly enjoyable album.
After a three-year hiatus lasting until 2005, the Black Crowes spent a few years touring before coming back with the 2008 album Warpaint. Recorded near Woodstock in just a week, the band have described the making of the album as an “organic trip,” with Chris Robinson explaining, “When we got into the studio, it just flowed so easily. We were on top of this mountain, and we were all living in the same place. There were no city distractions or people coming by. We were up there to work. A lot of that made it onto the record. Nature—and harmony.” The feel-good vibes of the recording process come through on the album, a compelling collection of songs that, while old-fashioned, are throwbacks of the best possible kind.
4. Before the Frost…Until the Freeze
In 2009, the Black Crowes dropped their eighth and latest album, Before the Frost…Until the Freeze. With its loose grooves and catchy choruses, the album ranks among the band’s finest, showcasing their talents as fine songwriters and intriguing jam masters. On standout tracks like the down and dirty Good Morning Captain and the rustic Appaloosa, the immediacy and intimacy of the performances is compelling, lending an easy flow and inviting warmth to the album that’s utterly irresistible.
After the band scrapped the unreleased Tall album, they moved forward with Amorica, an album that, for many Crowe connoisseurs, represents the pinnacle of their artistic endeavors. Although the echoes of bands like the Rolling Stones, Little Feat, and Led Zeppelin still ring loud and clear, it’s by no mean a stale imitation, with Rolling Stone noting: “in joining the mix with offbeat kicks (Latino rhythms, wah-wah guitar, strange vocal treatments), they sound remarkably fresh.” Mellower and more psychedelic than their previous albums (but with enough high energy numbers like the stupendous opener Gone to get your blood pumping), it’s a must-listen. Released in November 1994, it climbed to number 11 on the Billboard 200 and number 8 on the UK Albums Chart.
2. Shake Your Money Maker
In 1990, the Black Crowes burst onto the scene with their rowdy debut Shake Your Money Maker. It had as much of a place in the ’90’s music scene as Chris Robinson’s velvet bell-bottoms had in Vogue, but while it might have been hopelessly out of time, its youthful swagger and cracking song list made it seem fresher and more vital than almost anything else that was happening in the charts. Described by All Music as “the most concise demonstration of the fact that the Black Crowes are a great, classic rock & roll band,” the album rose to number 4 on the Billboard 200 and remains their biggest selling album to this day.
1. The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion
In at number one is the only Black Crowes album to ever top the US charts, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion. A sublime mishmash of influences that finds the band drawing on everyone from Bob Dylan to Sly and the Family Stone, yet never failing to sound like anything other than themselves, it’s a triumph. It might lack the same number of big singles as their debut, but the chemistry, freshness, and flair that underscores each of the 10 tracks make it the strongest and most timeless work in their catalog.