By Russell Baillie

THE BLACK CROWES

By Your Side

(Columbia)

Having made an initial splash some years back with a sound caught in a sort of rock'n'roll Groundhog Day where it's always 1972, the Black Crowes have been on a hiding to nothing in recent years.

Their third and fourth efforts went largely unnoticed (apart from the rude cover on Amorica) when the songs got increasingly ungainly - that bar-room-friendly approach was beginning to take itself all too seriously.

But here they are, despite personnel upheavals and a label change, and going back to their own time-warped basics.

That's certainly the effect of opener Go Faster, a frantic cobweb-shaker-outer of a song that if it is played loud enough in certain suburbs can send property prices plunging by the second chorus.

They continue with the same sort of spark for much of the 11 tracks, swinging between blatant hints of Stones, Faces and Free. On the likes of By Your Side and Only a Fool, you would imagine Rod Stewart, if he heard them, to think his memory was going and he'd lost a year back there somewhere.

There's also harder stuff like the low-slung riffery and massed gal chorus to Horsehead. The likes of Heavy (imagine a Stevie Wonder song being lynched by Lynyrd Skynyrd) and the slow burning Diamond Ring offer soul-fired diversions, while the best of that bunch is Go Tell The Congregation, all snappy blues-rock, mad Hammonds and double-time gospel chorus.

Yes, there is filler where the Black Crowes are being all too typical the Black Crowes. There are few hidden depths in Chris Robinson's lyrics which he delivers like a man possessed (probably by the ghost of the previous owners of his wardrobe). And yes, it's that deja-vu feeling all over again.

And what an enjoyable feeling it largely is. The Black Crowes may be driving a dented jalopy of far too many previous owners and a wound-back clock, but when it's firing on all cylinders ... well, you either laugh or get quite revved up yourself. And it's quite okay to do both. ***

SINGLES

Jan Hellriegel, Melusine (Universal): Further distancing herself from her guitar past the Auckland singer-songwriter offers up a woozy ode backed by a Propellerheads sense of retro-cabaret groove. An interestingly reinventive approach but a highly inconsequential song.

Blur Tender (EMI): The first cut from Blur's forthcoming album 13 is a amiable slice of, er, gospel spacerock. It comes complete with choral backing, a mix of gentle acoustic chug and wiry sad-eyed tune of uplifting message. Strange choice as a single but a definite grower.

MINOR MENTIONS

Various The Acid House soundtrack (EMI): The soundtrack to the next screen adaptation of an Irvine Welsh tome after Trainspotting sounds more promising than the film itself. On offer are tracks from the likes of Primal Scream (the dubby Insect Royalty), Barry Adamson with Nick Cave (the plush dark cabaret of Sweetest Embrace), Oasis (Going Nowhere), The Verve (On Your Own) and various electro-offerings from The Chemical Brothers, Bentley Rhythm Ace, and Death In Vegas among others. And T-Rex's Hot Love does to this what Iggy's Lust for Life did for the Trainspotting collection.

Various, The One and Only Reggae Album (Island): Barbecue-friendly, cover-heavy, pop-oriented 80s-focused, 18-track reggae compilation from the Island records vaults. Some gems but much that's plain gaudy.