Black Crowes Find Themselves On 'Lions'

Black Crowes front man Chris Robinson says the Atlanta-based rock veterans feel revitalized by their forthcoming "Lions," their sixth album and first fruit of a new deal with V2. Due May 8, the set fo

Black Crowes front man Chris Robinson says the Atlanta-based rock veterans feel revitalized by their forthcoming "Lions," their sixth album and first fruit of a new deal with V2. Due May 8, the set follows a brief stint on Columbia that yielded only 1999's "By Your Side." That album hit No. 26 on The Billboard 200 but posted the lowest sales figures of the Crowes' career.

Without abandoning the sound of past efforts, "Lions" re-emphasizes the Crowes' signature rock power, with shades of such stylistic forefathers as the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. (The band spent parts of 1999 and 2000 on the road with Zeppelin's Jimmy Page, a pairing that yielded the acclaimed Musicmaker.com/TVT live album "Live at the Greek".)

The hooks are stronger than ever, especially on the steamy "Greasy Grass River," roof-raising "Come On," and first single "Lickin'," powered by Rich Robinson's effect-drenched guitar lead. Other tracks like "Soul Singin' " and "Miracle to Me" find the Crowes delving deeper into the soul and R&B-tinged styles previously indulged in on 1990's "Shake Your Money Maker" and 1992's "The Southern Harmony & Musical Companion," which have sold a combined total of 5.5 million copies in the U.S., according to SoundScan.

"We got to really explore all the different terrain we cover musically and really commit to it," Chris Robinson says. "We've always played it a little safer, and kept an eye on the sound of our older records. But on this record, that wasn't really interesting to us."

Robinson and company attribute the album's air of rebirth to producer Don Was, who recorded "Lions" at New York's Theater 99 Recording, a cavernous converted Yiddish theater. Necessitated in part by the Crowes' revolving-door lineup-three bassists and a lead guitarist have come and gone since 1996-Chris Robinson, drummer Steve Gorman, keyboardist Ed Harsch, and Chris' brother/guitarist Rich recorded most of the songs live. Rich also played bass on 11 of the album's 13 tracks (bassist Andy Hess has since joined the group; guitarist Audley Freed also appears on the album).

"Don told us it takes a band 10 years to really find themselves, and he felt like we really found ourselves on this record," Rich Robinson says. "I hate to use these types of words, but this is like a new phase for us."

It all began last summer, when the Crowes chose V2 over dozens of other labels. "We're able to offer them the support and commitment of an independent but are also able to work their records extensively as a major would," V2 president Richard Sanders says. "For me, the goal is to bring them back to gold and potentially platinum status."

To further that endeavor, band and label devised a truly unique promotion. As Billboard.com first reported March 13, the Crowes (who have long permitted fans to tape their shows) will make every performance from their upcoming summer tour available for streaming via a secure online site. Passwords will be encoded on CD copies of "Lions." One live track will be available for download each week, and fans will also be allowed to burn to CD one concert in its entirety before the tour ends in August.

"Each show will be uploaded a week after it's performed," Sanders says. "This is the ultimate enhancement for a great record and for their fans." The first concert tapped for the promotion is a March 16 performance in Austin, Texas, which will be available online the day Lions hits stores.

Hailed as one of rock's more exciting live acts, the Crowes will share stages with such heavyweights as Oasis, Neil Young, and Bob Dylan in spring and summer. Taking its name from the oft-reported antics of each group's sibling leaders, the monthlong Tour of Brotherly Love with Oasis kicks off May 11 in Las Vegas. The Crowes will perform last each night, but both bands are expected to play for the same amount of time.

"People don't even go out and enjoy music and stop everything for a couple of hours and let it hit them," Chris Robinson says, downplaying any inferred rivalry over top billing. "I think rock'n'roll is the best music to do that to-with lots of people around, outside, on a nice night. I hope we'll do some songs together."

Earlier this week, the Crowes hit London's 700-capacity Scala club for a private gig similar to a February showcase in New York. The band has a number of its own shows planned prior to the Oasis trek, including an April 27 date with Dylan in Knoxville, Tenn.

Beginning in late June, the Crowes will share bills with Neil Young & Crazy Horse as well as the Stereophonics, before heading out on their own headlining tours of Japan and Europe (where Lions will be issued April 24 and April 31, respectively). Sanders expects the band to be on the road for upward of 18 months.

V2 director of promotion Matt Pollock says the radio campaign for "Lions" will begin with a huge push at modern rock (although "By Your Side" featured two top-10 hits on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks tally, neither dented the modern rock chart). "Lickin'," which was sent to all rock radio formats, is the ideal track to bridge the already blurry line between modern and mainstream rock playlists, according to Pollock.

"It's important for us to give back to their base of rock supporters something they can really sink their teeth into," he says. The uplifting "Soul Singin' " will be the second single released later this summer, as part of what Pollock calls an "all-format assault."

The Crowes will make on-air appearances at key stations, including Howard Stern's nationally syndicated morning show (which originates out of WXRK New York). The band will also appear on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno (May 10) and on Late Show With David Letterman (June 6).

To further increase visibility, V2 commissioned filmmaker Darren Ankenman to document the making of "Lions." Four documentary-type videos were created and will be made available on the Crowes' official Web site and other fan sites. Ankenman's footage was also used to create a video for "Lickin'," which will hit music TV outlets shortly before street date.

Chris Robinson, who married actress Kate Hudson last December, is truly excited for the future. "For the first time since we started this whole thing, there are people looking ahead, as opposed to looking at what we've done," he says. "Where our music is, is where our music is taking us. That's a very simple thing for us, but I don't think that has translated sometimes with the people we've worked with. Being in a place where we can express that is really liberating."