The Black Crowes: By Your Side

The Black Crowes: By Your Side

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The Black Crowes

Album: By Your Side
Label: Columbia

Brothers Chris and Rich Robinson, the leaders of the Atlanta blues-rock band Black Crowes, have survived a cavalcade of oft-self-imposed career roadblocks: They've battled drugs, feuds, the legal system, a protracted lawsuit, departed group members, an increasingly indifferent label, and declining record sales brought on by a puzzling identity crisis. With the new By Your Side—The Black Crowes' fifth album, following 1996's psychedelic flop Three Snakes And One Charm and 1994's lousy Amorica—the band should regain some commercial and critical ground, mostly because it reverts to the soulful rock swagger of its best-selling debut, 1990's Shake Your Money Maker. Opening with the calculatedly crowd-pleasing hellfire of "Go Faster" and the single "Kicking My Heart Around," By Your Side finds the group playing it safe at every turn, rarely deviating from its assortment of big choruses, chunky guitars, and predictably sassy backup singers. Your appreciation for the record will likely relate directly to your tolerance for shrill, unctuous singer Chris Robinson—he's at his best here on "HorseHead," mostly because he's doing an inflection-for-inflection imitation of the lovably underrated Billy Squier—and The Black Crowes' attempt to sequelize Shake Your Money Maker falls a bit short in the hooks department, especially on such late-album filler as "Go Tell The Congregation" and "Diamond Ring." But when you consider that the last few years have found the band touring with the Deadhead-intensive HORDE and Furthur festivals, By Your Side's slick rock 'n' roll bombast is a vast improvement over the rest of The Black Crowes' deservedly forgotten mid- and late-'90s output.