Listen to this track by volatile brotherly outfit and Atlanta blooze rock concern The Black Crowes. It’s “She Talks To Angels”, the fourth single from their smash-hit 1990 debut Shake Your Moneymaker. The song was a number one on the US rock charts, and scored a modest success in the UK as well.
The band’s sound is based in the kind of music that had its origins where the band itself originated, to wit: classic soul music and the blues. But, it also owed a strong debt to bands in the UK who first interpreted that music for the rock idiom, repackaging it for fans back in the United States during the ’60s and ’70s, most notably, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Free, and The Faces. As such, The Black Crowes represent a kind of cultural and stylistic Mobius strip, and certainly were a singular musical unit when they hit the ground running chartwise in the early ’90s.
But, none of their interesting origins would matter much without the songs. And this remains to be among the Black Crowes’ best.
Sure, it’s written in a style we can easily identify, and have heard before. This was something of a criticism laid at their feet at the time. Yet, you couldn’t avoid it in the early 90s, when those opening strains of acoustic guitar wound their way around the hallways of university dorms. A compelling guitar figure cannot be denied. But, beyond that sound, it’s the emotional impact that really sells it; a tale of pathos, addiction, and yet with tons of affection too. It’s that tension between the warmth of friendship, and the darkness of addiction that writers Rich and Chris Robinson manage to strike so well.
Apparently, this song was inspired by a person Chris Robinson was acquainted with in Atlanta. And in some ways, this song works because we’ve all met people like the person described in the song; a person who is surrounded by darkness, yet still has a spark of something that is easy to love. She is someone we perhaps want to save, but ultimately cannot.
“She Talks To Angels” capped off what was to be an incredible result for their debut record, gaining mainstream success in the brief window between the end of the ’80s glam-metal spandex era and the checkered shirts of the grunge era. But while one began to die and the other gained momentum, The Black Crowes followed their own path, although it wasn’t exactly a straight one. They’d do very well on their follow-up in The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion in 1992 , but subsequent ones provided fewer returns, along with rotating line-ups, inter-band tensions between the two Robinson brothers, and general road burn-out.
But, despite the rocky and indirect road to success, the band’s firm foundation as embodied in this song would sustain their reputation as a rock band with a soul, even if that soul is slightly tarnished.
After several hiatuses and periods of solo activity between the two principles, The Black Crowes are a going concern today. Catch up with them at theblackcrowes.com