Somehow, over the past 11 years, the Black Crowes have stayed the same, only better. Much like their primary inspirations, the Faces and the Stones, the band bases its deeply Southern R&B/rock on a foundation of smart songwriting, solid hooks and unpretentious sincerity. The Crowes' debut album, Shake Your Money Maker, instantly made bands such as the Georgia Satellites and the Fabulous Thunderbirds obsolete. Chris Robinson's vocals were way more raw and real than the beer-commercial pretenders working in the same field, and his brother Rich fruitfully mined the Keith Richards lode of simple-but-great guitar riffs.They've prudently expanded their sound -- taking in such related elements as psychedelia, funk and a bit of Led Zeppelin heaviness -- but the Black Crowes have never lost sight of the values that made them great. It's not easy to walk the line between rock excess and regular-guy populism, but when it works, it's golden. The Black Crowes have their own glamour (see Chris Robinson's skinny rock-star frame and movie-star wife), but they, ahem, "keep it real," too. They mix up their set lists and allow taping of all of their shows -- and, unlike most bands with such a policy, their shows are actually worth taping. They're not shy about acknowledging their affection for marijuana and sending shout-outs to their stoner fanbase. Their clearly unscripted, outspoken interviews must give their publicists nightmares. In short, the Black Crowes are the kind of "people's band" that '70s rock always promised but rarely delivered. If more classic-rock bands had been this unpretentious and in touch with "the people" the first time around, punk rock might never have been necessary.
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