The Black Crowes cut their latest record live in the studio before their biggest fans.
Having toured steadily since their 2005 reunion, Atlanta veteran blues rockers the Black Crowes decided to record their eighth studio album before a live audience. For much of last year they practiced 25 or so new songs until they were tighter than the plastic wrap on a Georgia peach pie. Then, in February 2009, they invited members of their fan club to attend five day-long recording sessions at a Woodstock, New York, studio owned by the Band drummer Levon Helm. The result is the group’s new record, Before the Frost…Until the Freeze.
“It was a much different process than what we’re used to,” says guitarist Rich Robinson. “When you do a record, you usually have time to dissect the songs in the studio and work them out. But having an audience there, we wanted to put on a great show while we were recording, and that didn’t leave a lot of room for changing stuff.”
Once the material was tracked, the Black Crowes worked with producer Paul Stacey to decide which songs fit together best. Despite the unconventional circumstances in which they were recorded, the 11 songs on Before the Frost…Until the Freeze sound neither incomplete nor rushed, and the set of tunes holds together as well as the band’s best studio albums.
To achieve a warm, textural tone for the album, Robinson recorded mostly with small amps, including a Fender Bassman, Fender Vibrolux and a Matchless. To diversify his sound further, he experimented with fingerpicking and various tunings, as well as a B-Bender. “It was fun to use the B-Bender,” he says. “I’ve used it before in a Jimmy Page rock sort of way, but this time I used it in a more traditional country style.”
In addition to recording 11 songs for Before the Frost, the Black Crowes tracked an additional nine tunes—including a cover of Stephen Stills’ “So Many Times” and a bluegrass tune called “Garden Day”—that fans can download for free, using a code inside the CD packaging. Robinson says, “The 11 songs that we chose form this totally cohesive album, but the other ones bring in a whole new element that’s really cool as well.”