Coming out of the late 80’s, during a time when the joint aural atrocities of hair-pop-metal and hip-hop ruled the airwaves, the Black Crowes’ version of 70’s Stones/Faces/ Humble Pie rock’n’roll was a saving grace to radio and MTV. Thinking back, it is somewhat amazing that these guys hit big, since they were so different from everything else that was going on in the mainstream at the time (though, of course, underground bands were ranting and raving in local clubs throughout the world), but I guess it just goes to show that not everyone wanted the same damn thing regurgitated over and over, despite what the record companies seemed to think. This was proven again not long after this by the Nirvana explosion.
Shake Your Money Maker was released at the beginning of 1990 and their blues-rock became a smash hit with two number one singles (“Hard to Handle” and “She Talks to Angels”). Their success gave many of us hope for r’n’r again, since these cats were stylish, hard-rockin’, had great guitar tones and wrote real songs. This was beyond refreshing after dealing with the dreck of popular music in the 80’s.
The group’s 70’s/Stones influences are apparent immediately with the slide-rocker “Twice As Hard”, which could easily have been an outtake from Sticky Fingers or Exile on Main Street. A nice, rockin’ groove eventually brought this song up to #11 on the charts. In a similar vein, but a little more upbeat (and with great piano by former Allman Brothers Band member Chuck Leavell) is “Jealous Again”, which reached #5 on the charts and rightfully so – another super, Stones-y rocker.
A bit of a departure is the ballad-y “Sister Luck”, which has the feel of something like “Sway”, from Sticky Fingers – their influences are obvious, but they still right strong tunes, so it is more than forgivable. “Could I’ve Been So Blind” is a boogie-ing rocker with all of the right ingredients but not quite as memorable as some of their other songs. Still good, and certainly better than most groups were doing at the time, but I do think that the singles (all 5 of them!) were the best of the bunch. That said, “Seeing Things” was apparently a minor hit (though I don’t remember it being played) but it is a somewhat forgettable ballad.
But then comes the sensation of the album, their take on Otis Redding’s funky “Hard to Handle”. High-energy and sassy as all hell, they rock this number up and put their own mark on it. Kick ass lead guitar on this from Jeff Cease, as well, who left the band after this album.
Blowing away my argument about their best songs being the singles is “Thick’n’Thin”, a rockin’ southern boogie that just blasts out of the speakers! Of course, their biggest ballad was “She Talks to Angels”, which is sweet, effective, and prettily melodic and builds into some good power. Quite good lyrics, as well – this could have been about any number of women on the underground rock scene at the time, making it very relatable.
The appropriately titled “Struttin’ Blues” then comes barreling out with massive Humble Pie-styled power chords and Hammond organ, making you almost expect to hear Steve Marriot shrieking over the top, but you get the next best thing in Chris Robinson! I know I’m getting into a rut comparing these songs to the Stones, but with the open “G” tunings that Rich Robinson uses for the basis of his chords riffs, such as in the original album closer, “Shake It Cold”, it really can’t be helped. But, they do it so well – certainly better than the Stones were at this time! And they throw in a Faces-like high-energy rave-up ending that truly smokes!
The bonus tracks here include the fast-slide-rockin’ “Don’t Wake Me”, with its clever harmonies in the catchy chorus – not sure why this would have been left off of the original record, if indeed this was recorded at the same time. The other bonus is an “acoustic version” of “She Talks to Angels”, a different take on the song with piano instead of organ intertwining with the acoustic guitars that were on the album version and no drums. There is also an unlisted (and very, very, very quiet) track apparently titled "Live Too Fast Blues/Mercy, Sweet Moan", which is an extremely short blues tune.
Really, a pretty superb debut album which, along with Nirvava, did really help save rock’n’roll during the dark days of the late 80’s/early 90’s.
(Funnily enough, to my knowledge, they have yet to record the Elmore James song they used as this album's title.)