updating the best of a bygone era

Three Snakes and One Charm (American)
The Black Crowes

By Allen Howie

What I like most about the Black Crowes -- and about their new album, Three Snakes and One Charm, in particular -- is their giddy refusal to follow trends or find a gimmick. What they do instead is make records grounded in the kind of soulful, bluesy roots rock that groups like Free and the Stones pursued in their heyday (and which Neil Young still dishes up when he and Crazy Horse are in the mood).

In fact, the Black Crowes new album could easily have been recorded in the early 1970s. Loaded with guitars that ring and buzz in turn, serpentine rhythms coiled around glorious pop melodies, and gritty, urgent vocals, it distills and updates the best of that bygone era while still sounding fresh and inspired.

Several tracks jump right off the disc and into your subconscious. "Blackberry" is a high-octane rave-up on the order of "Hard to Handle" from the band's debut album, while "(Only) Halfway to Everywhere" slips along on an exuberantly funky riff that Sly and the Family Stone would have killed for.

The big surprise here for the uninitiated will be the ballads. With its sweet lead guitar and gently swirling organ, "Girl from a Pawnshop" would feel right at home on Dylan's Blonde on Blonde,while the pretty ebb and flow of "How Much for Your Wings" stakes out a territory all its own. And the sunny "Better When You're Not Alone" sounds like some great lost Marshall Crenshaw gem.

Mixing elements of Southern rock, Stax-Volt soul and two-fisted rock and roll, the Black Crowes' fourth album stays the course they charted with their debut six years ago, and continues to find new ideas along the way.