Unbiased reviews of new vinyl releases, audiophile reissues, and more

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Black Crowes: Croweology -- 180 gram 3 LP Vinyl (w/included digital download)


In conjunction with their Say Goodnight to the Bad Guys 2010 tour, the Black Crowes have just released Croweology, an expanded set of acoustic versions of many of their most loved songs. Pricing both the 2-cd release and the 3 LP vinyl set (reviewed here) like a single disc set, the album has been dubbed a thank you to fans for 20 years of support.

The Packaging
The three-disc vinyl set is packaged in a gatefold cover made of regular weight cardstock, which opens up to  pop-up cartoon artwork. Each of the 180 gram vinyl discs arrived clean, flat and were housed in paper inner sleeves listing the song titles.  The vinyl labels, which contain nothing beyond the side number, have an almost bootleg feel to them. Despite that initial impression, each of the records, which were pressed by Vinyl Record Guru, were eerily quiet, playing throughout with cd-quiet backgrounds and blackness between tracks. A card containing a code to download MP3 files of the entire album was also included--and while the files aren't lossless or FLAC, they're certainly sufficient for listening in the car or on a portable device at the gym. There is no separate vinyl mastering credit given, beyond the general credit to John Paterno.

(The Black Crowes)

The Music
Just about anyone who has been a fan of the Crowes over the past twenty years is likely to enjoy this album--especially since there are a generous number of selections from their two most popular albums: Southern Harmony and Musical Companion and Amorica. Rather than doing stripped-down acoustic versions, the Crowes took the opportunity to really stretch out in much the same way as Mudcrutch did on their live album following their self-titled 2008 effort.

Perhaps, the finest moments on the album happen on side three. It begins with the Grateful Dead-inspired, Ballad in Urgency, which like Mudcrutch's Crystal River, takes on an epic feel as it waxes and wanes its way through an extended outtro and into a gorgeous rendition of Wiser Time, in the finest tradition of the Allman Brothers. The remainder of the album also mostly works, with songs like Throrn in My Pride receiving an extended gospel-tinged coda--and the band sounding very, very good--but never quite repeating the brilliance of side three.

The Sound
Croweology is wisely spread out over six sides of vinyl--and the listener is rewarded with a very smooth sounding listening experience that never gets harsh, sibilant, or distorted--even at the end of the sides. The overall eq favors the lower frequencies, with a big bottom end, and a top that never gets overly bright--and quite importantly, there is no sign of compression or limiting.

While Croweology is definitely an enjoyable listening experience, it just isn't quite an audiophile quality one. Despite having decent stereo separation from left to right, there is very little depth of sound and the music can come off as kind of "flat." And while you can turn up this album about as loud as you want to without experiencing any harshness or distortion, it lacks the midrange complexity that adds grit to the human voice and makes a dobro sound like a dobro-- rather than another acoustic guitar. It also lacks the extended highs and decay that impart realism and make you  really believe the musicians are in your living room.

(Chris and Rich Robinson)

To keep things in perspective, I pulled out Fleetwood Mac's Rumours, and Tom Petty's recent effort, Mojo. The all-analog Rumours--and even the digitally recorded 24/48 mastering of Mojo, each had a depth of sound and realism that is missing from Croweology. The dobro on The Chain, from Rumours, had the midrange bite that makes it sound authentic, rather than just another acoustic guitar. While this vinyl version of Croweology may very well sound better than the cd, it simply lacks the depth of sound and realism found in well-mastered analog and hi-res digital recordings.

The Black Crowes have released a very enjoyable, very listenable album of alternate acoustic versions of many of their fan favorites. And while it isn't quite an audiophile experience, it does sound very good and has no obvious compression or limiting. At ten dollars, the cd is a huge bargain. At nearly three times that price, the 3 LP vinyl set is certainly priced fairly if what you're looking for is a very nicely pressed, smooth sounding set that is dead quiet from start to finish.


Anonymous said...

Yet one more example of why your reviews are increasingly worthless. Time to get your ears checked. There's lots of depth of sound AND realism on Croweology.

Anonymous said...

Why do so many new vinyl pressings have large "blemishes" on them? It's frustrating how rare getting a clean (and flat) album is.

My Vinyl Review said...

Even a significant percentage of the vinyl coming from premium pressing facilities now has manufacturing blemishes. Some have suggested that this is the result of a change in vinyl formulation over the years. In any event, if these marks are audible and significantly detract from your listening experience, most Etailers will make an exchange. Brick and mortar vinyl sellers tend to be more picky about exchanges, as some labels won't accept vinyl returns.

shaizada said...

Just got my copy...the pressings are too perfect actually :) Quiet, flat without a single scratch or anomaly. I wish more releases were like this as I'd expect nothing less from new pressings. Sound quality is pretty good. I have excellent soundstage width and height in my setup (VPI TNT 6 Hot Rod, JMW 12.5, Clearaudio Accurate MC Cartridge, Einstein Turntables Choice Phonostage). The sound quality is very good. Nice warmth in textures of instruments and voice inflections. I feel the mastering could have been better with a little bit more realism in the instrument renderings. Overall I'm VERY happy with what I'm hearing.

I don't know where it was pressed, but looking at the quality of these pressings, it feels like something out of the German Pallas plant. I have TONS of RTI pressings, they just aren't this perfect :) Compared to the CD, the vinyl is definitely a superior listening experience, so if you have to pick one, get on the dark side!

shaizada said...

Ok, just got done listening to the whole first disc....WOW! The sound quality on side 2 is in a different league compared to side 1....how weird! Definitely "audiophile" quality sound, if there is one. Mesmerizing album. Buy it without a single hitch.

GZ Vinyl said...

We are happy this release is so warmly accepted.
GZ Vinyl team :-)

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