Three Snakes And One Charm

A couple of textbook hard-rock singles first put the Black Crowes on the map in 1990, but the band has recorded only three or four true singles since "Jealous Again" and "Hard to Handle." Fortunately, they're all on Three Snakes and One Charm. This album points to a compromise between the Crowes' early and later work, with the band easing back into straightforward, R&B-informed hard rock while expanding on the textural shifts and adept dynamics that made 1994's Amorica compelling, if also a little fuzzy.

Though no less derivative of Jeff Beck Group-era Rod Stewart, Chris Robinson's vocals sound better than ever, and the band has tightened into the kind of Southern-rock machine Lynyrd Skynyrd eventually became. But the Crowes still haven't fully found their focus. Three Snakes works best when it forsakes album-oriented pretension for singular clarity, from the oblique Beatles references on "Nebakanezer" and "Bring On, Bring On" to the Sly Stone-cum-Al Green funk of "(Only) Halfway to Everywhere" and the warm acoustic resignation of "Better When You're Not Alone."