"It's about freedom, and what revolution used to stand for, how you've got to make one of your own and make it last," singer Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes shouts as the brawling guitars of "Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution," the opening song on the Crowes' first studio album since Lions in 2001, boom through the stereo speakers in a friend's apartment in Brooklyn. "It's like the last line of the song," Robinson says, then singing along to himself on the record, "Don't you want to see the ship go down with me?"
That fighting spirit is a running theme in Warpaint, to be released on March 4th on the Crowes' own Silver Arrow label. The album features ten new originals, written by Chris and his guitarist brother, Rich, including the heavy-blues march "Walk Believer Walk," the midtempo bruiser "We Who See the Deep," a country-soul ballad, "There's Gold in Them Hills," and the Âclosing raga-Âflavored hymn, "Whoa Mule," with Chris declaring, "We're dirty but we're dreamin', " in a field of harmonium, slide Âguitar, harmonica and hand drumming. Warpaint also comes with holy rollin' — a raucous cover of "God's Got It," written and recorded in the Seventies by Louisiana guitarist-preacher Rev. Charlie Jackson.
According to Chris, Warpaint is the complete package of the Georgia-born Crowes' passions and influences â€" the Delta blues, Dixie soul and early-Seventies classic rock that immediately marked them as determined purists on their 1990 hit debut, Shake Your Moneymaker. "It's got all the roots," he says as Warpaint plays â€" loudly â€" behind him. "But it's also got a psychedelic feel," he adds. The Day-Glo country ballad "Oh Josephine" is, Chris says, "one of the best things Rich and I have ever written." But at the end, it veers into a long finale of exultant, battling guitars, played by Rich and Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars, who has officially joined the Crowes with this album. "Hey, we're the Black Crowes," Chris says with a smile poking through his gold-rush-miner beard. "We gotta tack on a three-minute coda."
Warpaint, the Crowes' seventh studio album, has been an unusually long time coming. In 2002, the band â€" exhausted by a decade of touring, record-label politics and the Robinsons' own notorious, combative relationship â€" went on open-ended hiatus, during which Chris and Rich each pursued solo careers. The brothers restarted the Crowes in 2005 but stuck to live work until last July, when they recorded Warpaint with Dickinson, bassist Sven Pipien and original drummer Steve Gorman in a studio in Woodstock, New York. The Crowes cut the songs live in the studio in just three weeks and in as few takes as possible, with minimal overdubbing. The voodoo rock of "Evergreen" was caught in a single take, and "Whoa Mule" was actually cut outdoors. "You can hear the birds," Chris points out.
The incandescent tangle of Rich and Dickinson's guitars on Warpaint was, Chris claims, inevitable: "We've known the guys in the North Mississippi Allstars for a long time." But after Rich and Dickinson debuted their side project, Circle Sound, a covers-jam band, in early 2007, the Robinsons decided to make Dickinson a Crowe for real. "Sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do," Chris says, laughing. Meanwhile, the Allstars, founded by Dickinson and his drummer brother, Cody, release their own new album, Hernando, on January 22nd.
The Crowes are so proud of Warpaint that they will play the record in its entirety every night during a run of shows in March. Chris points out that the originals are truly new, too â€" all written shortly before the Woodstock sessions, with no riffs or hooks left over from the past few years. "I didn't want any of that," Chris says. "I wanted to show people where we are now."