The Black Crowes always struck me as cheese connoisseurs sharp enough to alter their familiar formula with redneck rock, smoky R&B, Aerosmith-style riffage, extended hippie jams and blatant British Invasion borrowings a la the Faces and Free.
The Robinson brothers -- despite time off for drugs, divorce and personnel scrambling -- haven't retooled their sound much for their fifth album, "By Your Side." But damn it all if pleading singer Chris and crunching guitarist Rich haven't turned in 11 songs that feel just right, from the Stonesy stomp of the title track to the sin-and-salvation bluster of "Go Tell the Congregation." Braying slide guitar scorches "Kicking My Heart Around," while "HorseHead" is fueled by dirty wah-guitar declarations. "Only a Fool" and "Diamond Ring" benefit from grooves and Hammond-organ work straight out of Memphis. "Heavy" and "Virtue and Vice" offer bluesy Zep doses, while power ballad "Welcome to the Goodtimes" is spiced with the horns of New Orleans' Dirty Dozen Brass Band.
Are the Crowes irrelevant? Yep. Useless? Hell, no.