The Lost Crowes is right -- only hardcore fans will know of the music on this two-CD set, and even then, chances are they haven't heard it. And it's not like this is an odds-n-sods collection of outtakes and B-sides, either: The Lost Crowes contains two complete unreleased albums called Tall and Band, recorded in 1993 and 1997, respectively, but in the vaults until now. They're interesting companion pieces, too, since they not only have different feels but were shelved for different reasons. Tall metamorphosed into the sprawling 1994 masterpiece Amorica, with a handful of its songs popping up elsewhere, including 1996's Three Snakes and One Charm; Band was simply left behind as the group moved on to By Your Side. Not surprisingly, Tall sounds like a rough draft of Amorica; a lot of the ideas are in place, along with such Crowes classics as "A Conspiracy," "Wiser Time," "Nonfiction," and "Cursed Diamond," but the sound isn't as full-bodied, nor is the band as wooly. This means Tall isn't as rich or robust as Amorica, but it's sure interesting to hear the roots of that album, and the previously unheard songs from these sessions -- such as the dirty funk of "Tied Up and Swallowed," the lazy hillbilly roll of "Thunderstorm 6:54," and the sweet acoustic "Tornado" -- fit into the cross-stitched fabric of Amorica quite well. There's a seed of a great album in Tall and the Crowes found that seed and made it grow for Amorica; this may not be as good -- and it's understandable why it was reworked -- but it's certainly worthwhile for any fan to hear.
If Tall did indeed need some reworking before it was released to the general public, it's a mystery why the band didn't release Band as is in 1997. Sonically falling halfway between the ragged Amorica and the hard-edged Three Snakes, this is a great Crowes album showcasing their skills as songwriters and as a loose yet muscular jam band. On the fringes of this album there is some country and the band does stretch out to improvise, but it never feels aimless, because there is an immediacy to the performances and because there are some terrific songs that center the album in a way that was lacking on Three Snakes. There is a hard-driving R&B and soul vibe here, ranging from the churning down-home funk of "Another Roadside Tragedy" and "Never Forget This Song" to the relaxed Faces-styled groove of "If It Ever Stops Raining," which is complemented by the few country flourishes, such as the mandolins on "Lifevest" or the high lonesome fiddles of "My Heart's Killing Me." This is the Black Crowes at their best, turning out classicist rock that flows so natural and easy it feels like these songs have always existed. It would have been great to have Band out in 1997, but having it arrive about ten years later only emphasizes how classic the Crowes sound at their peak, since it doesn't sound like a revival: it sounds like part of a tradition. And thankfully that tradition now contains these two albums, which do rank among the more interesting (Tall) and best (Band) records they've ever done.