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Music Review

Crowes return with ragged rock intact

Email|Print| Text size + By Jonathan Perry
Globe Correspondent / March 7, 2008

SOMERVILLE - "Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution," the song that launched the Black Crowes' sizzling, sold-out show at Somerville Theatre Wednesday night, began like most good Black Crowes songs do - with a slash and a sting in the form of a raggedly right riff from guitarist Rich Robinson that sounded at once shrugged off and indelible. His brother Chris's reedy rasp of a voice, just as raggedly right, followed him into the light of the opening verse.

From there, the Crowes were in full flight: a humming phalanx of guitars, bass, drums, and keys, flexing and stretching together as one muscle, one throbbing groove.

That's what it sounded like for two hours to the roughly 900 fans who witnessed the Crowes' return to blazing blues-rock after a lengthy hiatus dotted with solo albums, side projects, and general inactivity. The band is in the midst of a run of sold-out dates at small theaters, showcasing material from its new album, "Warpaint," its first in seven years and the first to be released on the Crowes' own Silver Arrow Records label.

The brothers Robinson are clearly proud of the new album - the band both basked in, and roared through, the disc in its entirety before returning for a pair of encores - and with good reason. New numbers like the burly-but-lean stomper "Wounded Bird" and the courtly back-porch ballad "Locust Street" demonstrated that the Crowes are back to their old tricks and bluesy licks. They've dispensed with the meandering jams that sometimes sunk them in the mid-'90s like quicksand.

Instead, the band reached back to Johnny Winter's lean "Mean Town Blues," Dylan's tender "Girl From the North Country," and a blistering reading of their own "Thorn in My Pride" for encore inspirations.

The band's blustery return to its old traditions coincided with a pair of new additions to the lineup: keyboardist Adam MacDougall and guitarist Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars. Dickinson's greasy slide runs and tempestuous solo turns, in particular, made for an animated foil for the usually staid Rich Robinson, who remained as much the onstage introvert as his frontman brother Chris was the strutting, pantomiming extrovert.

Augmented by a pair of back-up singers who helped tinge the music with a gospel fervor, the Crowes sounded closer to, and at home with, their own deep Southern roots than they've been in ages - a band not at war but at peace.

The Black Crowes

At: Somerville Theatre, Wednesday

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