The idea is inspired: gather an intimate audience of your biggest fans and put them in Levon Helm’s Woodstock, New York, barn to watch you record your new material. That’s what the Black Crowes did for their latest album — an 11-song set of ragged rockers and funky jams (Before the Frost … ) plus an extra nine-song collection of mostly acoustic, country-tinged tunes (Until the Freeze …) that you can download after purchasing the physical disc.
You get a little sick of hearing the crowd between songs (we get it, there’s an audience!), but in many ways this is the album the Crowes have been meaning to record for years. After ratcheting up a cool swagger with the grungy guitars and ragtime-y piano of “Good Morning Captain,” the band delivers rock-solid country-rock balladry (“Appaloosa”) and chunky, Faces-style rock & roll (“A Train Still Makes a Lonely Sound”). There are a couple of clunkers — “I Ain’t Hiding,” a disco-rock song that sounds like a reject from the Stones’ Black and Blue, and “What Is Home,” which wants badly to be early CSN — but they get lost amid the dirty-ass riffage, jammy grooves and bottleneck slide guitar. And Freeze is a set of American beauties that flows from spacey bluegrass to good-time boogie and pensive country folk. The perfect Sunday record after a long night in the barn.