The Black Crowes' magic mojo has always lain in the band's torrid live performances. One lick of Twice as Hard and the Crowes' fan was motivated to smoke the whole friggin' blunt or drink the entire goddamn fifth of Jack. At the center of this lay-it-on-the-line live production was ragged lead singer Chris Robinson, weighing about a buck and scurrying around the stage like an ostrich on crack. Now, with the Crowes on hiatus, Robinson has released a surprisingly mellow solo debut, New Earth Mud. Not all Crowes fans will be fond of it, and one senses that Robinson couldn't care less. When your actress bride is pulling in $10 million a picture, you can afford to say fuck-all and be self-indulgent.
Here, Robinson gets props for chucking the whiskey-rock formula he's built his fame on, opening with a solid threesome of tracks that exhibit an ability to seamlessly integrate variations on the smooth twang the Allman Brothers perfected with their masterful "Melissa." However, the album has some seriously corny holes. "Could You Really Love Me?" shows early potential, but it unravels during a disastrously experimental musical interlude that sounds like "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" on crutches. It's as if Robinson and his session mates decided to take all the instruments in the room and play them one by one, fucking up any momentum the song had. "Katie Dear" is pig slop. Dude, we know you're shtupping Kate Hudson. Good on ya, mate -- you've pulled the most unlikely ugly-rocker-seduces-starlet score since Lyle Lovett landed the Pretty Woman or the Piano Man notched Christie Brinkley. But the title is just way too transparent and obvious, instantly evoking mental images of Robinson's bony, pale ass getting down home with Ms. Hawn's glorious daughter. Still, if you're even remotely interested in the Crowes, you should pick up this album. It's like Dead fans' buying Garcia's solo efforts. Jerry rarely scored like he did with the band, but he was never boring.