Ken Tucker says forget the latest musical trends: The Black Crowes and the Plimsouls deserve your record-buying dollars

By Josh Wolk
January 28, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST
Steve Granitz

Crowes About It

I come before you today to plead the cases for two examples of musically-reactionary, jangling-guitar, thudding-drums, yowled-vocals rock & roll. These virtues are embodied in two new CDs, the Black Crowes’ “By Your Side” (Columbia) and the Plimsouls’ “Kool Trash” (Fuel 2000). They are collections that ignore current trends to pursue elemental things: the big beat; the glory rock & roll can find in the limitations of the human voice; the bummed-out feeling of getting dumped.

The Crowes’ “By Your Side” finds Atlanta brothers Chris and Rich Robinson in rare agreement; the notoriously feuding twosome are as one here, Chris singing his guts out and Rich revving up his guitar riffs to the explosion point. The songs carry built-in references to other rockers — to the Rolling Stones, the Small Faces, Otis Redding, to ’70s Southern rock in general. Yet the music on “By Your Side” doesn’t sound like embalmed nostalgia or tired homage. It sounds, instead, like music the Black Crowes HAD to make — as if their souls depended upon its completion. “By Your Side” has gotten off to a decent start, debuting at No. 26 in the Billboard Top 200. But, hit or flop, this album does their — and our — souls good.

The Plimsouls are led by similar compulsions, but the music is sharply different. This was the prime power-pop band of Los Angeles’ late ’70s/early ’80s; you’ll indulge me if I say I can’t tell you how many nights I spent in L.A. clubs big and small watching Peter Case and his crew rip through a set of fast, lean songs and how exhilarating every one of those performances was. Case went on to a well-respected solo career as an unusually sharp singer-songwriter, but “Kool Trash” finds him re-forming the Plimsouls with Clem Burke, former drummer for Blondie, handling percussion. “Kool Trash” is loaded with breathlessly quick, catchy songs that make you proud to be an American.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you will decide these CDs’ fate. I hope you come to the right decision and find them guilty of sustained excellence.