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The Black Crowes

WARPAINT • The Black Crowes

Even if it's true, as some pundits posit, that the Black Crowes have never completely escaped the long shadow of their cherished influences, there are far worse things to be than skillfully and passionately derivative. Especially when you're sourcing top-tier heroes such as Humble Pie, the Faces and the Stones, and adding a heaping helping of authentic Southern personality that even uber-clever Brits like Steve Marriot, Rod 'n' Woody, and Mick 'n' Keith could only hope to channel.

While it's accurate to say that the Crowes have dutifully gone through the motions on occasion--I don't ever need to hear Amorica again--Warpaint, the oft-revamped band's first studio album in seven years, kicks righteous ass and features the finest rustic roots-rock they've ever waxed (on "Locust Street" and "Whoa Mule"). Only one track, the leaden "Wee Who See the Deep," falls prey to the sort of riff-by-number excess heard sporadically on past releases that flicks some of the right switches but ultimately fizzles short of the goal line.

If the Crowes' signature snake-charmer boogie recipe sets your lips to smackin', there's plenty of comfort food here. "Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution," "Evergreen," "Wounded Bird," and "Movin' On Down the Line" swoop and swagger with all due sonic fury. "Oh Josephine" and "There's Gold in Them Hills" showcase the band's underappreciated facility with a soulful ballad. A bit outside the box throbs a cover of the Rev. Charlie Jackson's "God's Got It," a gospel-stirred cauldron of sacred and profane ingredients that's surely destined for a "best of" anthology in time.

Front man Chris Robinson remains and always will be one of the most electrifying rock 'n' roll singers who ever swung a mic stand, and his songwriting partnership with younger brother Rich again transcends the ongoing sibling pissing match that seems to characterize their nonmusical interactions. Although the Robinson boys continue to steer this train nearly 20 years down the road, give abundant credit to new band members Adam McDougal and Luther Dickinson (late of the North Mississippi All-Stars) for reinvigorating the Crowes' crunchy classicism on keyboards and slide guitar, respectively. Their contributions help to make an old thing sound vital and nasty all over again, and that's what the Black Crowes have always been about, ain't it?
• Mike Thomas

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