Album reviews: The Black Crowes, Three Snakes and One Charm (1996)



By Steve Newton

Those overtly pro-pot Black Crowes must be indulging in some mind-blowing reefer of late, because the Atlanta sextet really lets the creative juices flow on this, its fourth album. The band passes musical styles around like a fast-burning joint, injecting heavy (and sometimes overbearing) doses of gospel, funk, psychedelia, and trippy folk into its melange of rootsy rock sounds. The result is an eclectic hodgepodge that might—after 1994’s equally unfocused Amorica—further alienate fans of the band’s straightforward 1990 debut, Shake Your Moneymaker.

Apart from the vibrant strut of “Blackberry”, there’s nothing on Three Snakes and One Charm that exudes the urgency or passion of the band’s early, Faces-inspired blues-rock. “Girl from a Pawnshop” attempts to recreate the infectiously laid-back vibe of Moneymaker’s breakthrough hit, “She Talks to Angels”—and benefits from the superior lead-guitaring of Rich Robinson—but gets bogged down in overwrought chord changes.

Lead vocalist Chris Robinson’s fondness for Sly & the Family Stone–style fare is evident in “(Only) Halfway to Everywhere”, although he is way outfunked by P-Funk All Stars crooners Gary “Mudbone” Cooper and Gary Shider. Others adding diverse touches to the CD include the Dirty Dozen (formerly the Dirty Dozen Brass Band), singer Erica Stewart from Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, and ex-American Music Club member Bruce Kaphan on pedal-steel guitar.

There are some impressive moments during this disc’s 48 minutes, but the Black Crowes try to spread too much of everything over the 12 tracks, as if they were aiming to create a Sgt Peppers for the roots-rock set. Although Chris and Rich Robinson are totally proficient in their respective roles as singer and guitarist, their humdrum songwriting makes me wonder if the band would be better off returning to the retro boogie stylings that got it noticed in the first place.

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