The Black Crowes 
By Your Side

The Black Crowes are back.

And mining the best rock grooves of the early '70s with a gleeful vengeance.

After a couple of weak albums, lineup changes and downtime with drugs, the Crowes have kicked their bad habits and returned to rockin' harder than ever before on their fifth album By Your Side. Opening with "Go Faster," a high-octane rewrite of "Shake Your Groove Thing," the album rips forward in fifth gear from song to furiously pounding classic rock song.

The Crowes sound bigger than life on By Your Side, and more than ever like a potent distillation of the best early '70s work of Rod Stewart, The Rolling Stones and Aerosmith. They even pulled in recent Aerosmith producer Kevin Shirley to helm this particular disc.

It's hard not to sing along on many of these tracks as Chris Robinson belts out songs of hurt and heady anthems of love. His appeal is undeniable in "Kickin' My Heart Around," as the band chants "hoo hoo hoo" behind his shouts of, "just stop, kickin' my heart around," and brother Rich's richly organic guitars crash and burn behind it all.

Chris Robinson says in the press release for the disc that: "Our last album was about dealing with your hangover; this one is about the night before the hangover."

It's an apt description. This is a fresh party album for the classic rock set. The riffs are hot, the background vocals huge and soulful and the keyboard raunchy rock 'n' roll. There are achingly airy slide guitar fills and a James Brown-funky gospel celebration in "Go Tell The Congregation" that will have you worshipping at the altar of Crowe rock in no time. And "Horsehead" funks up the drums and guitar interplay tauter than any Lenny Kravitz song, and the gospel background singers turn up again to make this one a hip-swayin' festival of glorious sound.

"Only a Fool" is a worthy horn-punched follow-up to "She Talks To Angels" and "Go Faster." "Kickin' My Heart Around" and "Go Tell The Congregation" easily stand beside the band's early '90s breakthrough stream of hits in "Jealous Again," "Head to Handle" and "Remedy."

By Your Side is a great way to rock through the start of the new year.


Ana Voog Ana Voog

If you were a fan of Book of Love and/or Ingrid Chavez, you need to search this disc out.

Ana Voog is a Minneapolis-based, techno-pop poet who likes to vamp and tease (her album art features her clad revealingly wrapped in colored Saran Wrap). While all her songs are actually less "revealing" than the album's back cover (except for an R-rated "hidden" track at the end of the disc), she manages to exude sensuality with vocals ranging from Betty Boop highs to seductive lows throughout this disc of ambient synth and drum backdrops. She also gets the help of Prince pals Bobby Z and Ingrid Chavez (Z produces, Chavez joins in on the disc's spoken word closer).

The opener, "Telepathic You," is awash in buoyant vocal layers and throbbing synthesizer backbeats. The effect is warmly ethereal and almost alludes to Cocteau Twins soundscapes.

"Angelsnakedance" sounds very Chavez-influenced with its breathy spoken word verses, which obliquely profess Voog's ongoing theme of personal freedom and expression (she keeps a video camera in her apartment that broadcasts to the Internet 24 hours a day).

A cover of Yoko Ono's "Ask The Dragon" also echoes that theme, using a childlike litany of questions to animals that graduate to questions to a man and woman. She asks the animals why they crawl, keep their necks straight, etc., to which they answer, "I don't know. I'm just doing it."

When she gets to the humans ("why do you dance in the wind"), they answer "I Don't know, I'm just doing it... because it's fun." "Beautiful Accident" is probably the best track on the disc, a fun wordplay piece reminiscent of Book of Love's "Chatterbox." Above a circular piano melody Voog goes through a stream of accidental word connections that all lead into one another: "bloodshot shotgun gunfire firefly flytrap trapdoor doorbell bellboy boyfriend ..."

There are a couple of jazzy/techno combinations and a couple of tracks that are more ambient than interesting. But overall, this is an adventurous, playful mix of art, poetry and whimsy.