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Album Review: The Black Crowes – Happiness Bastards

3 min read
Album Review: The Black Crowes – Happiness Bastards

The Black Crowes had not released an album of new material since 2009’s Before the Frost…Until the Freeze – note: ‘had not’… past tense!  Happiness Bastards is their tenth studio album released through Silver Arrow Records, and marks their first album since re-reforming in 2019.  Produced by GRAMMY Award-Winner Jay Joyce, the album seeks to remind everybody that the Black Crowes were, and still are, one of the most influential rock bands of the last forty years.

Kicking off hard, Bedside Manners Has a real rock feel to it, gritty lyrics and a beat that feels it’s stripped from Primal Scream’s finest, and this rolls neatly into Rats and Clowns which once more is classic Black Crowes – classic rock beats and guitars, replete with a fantastic guitar solo!  Moving away from rock, Cross Your Fingers starts with a country vibe, but moves into fantastic bluesy rock ‘n’ roll as the song progresses, whilst first single release Wanting and Waiting moves back to provide another track in the classic late 80’s rock vibe – more great guitar solos and catchy lyrical chant “blood on fire” at the end, that is sure to make it a hit on their upcoming tour.  Country star Lainey Wilson has the auspicious honour of being the first co-credited artist on a Black Crowes track, and Wilted Rose, which musically is lodged somewhere between blues and country, but lyrically is very much in the country mould.  As Wilson commented “It’s an honor to wail on this record with these legendary, pioneering rockstars.”

The whole of Happiness Bastards weaves well stylistically between blues, country and rock from the 80s and 90s, and Dirty Cold Sun continues this well, as the music returns to the rock ensemble, with more than just a hint of funk, and an immediate parallel drawn to Black Grape’s Reverend Black Grape in the verse.  The Crowes go full blues with Bleed It Dry, a short unapologetic step back to harmonicas and slide licks that would have John Lee Hooker nodding in approval, which contrasts from a fresh, almost 90’s Britpop-style Flesh Wound – a great, punchy track about getting back up from the knockout of a breakup.  Follow the Moon is less in your face rock (though yet again a fantastic guitar solo) with hints of gospel choir, whilst the lyrics cover the not always positive experiences of love affairs in a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.  Rounding out the latest LP offering, Kindred Friend is the only true ballad on the album – down-tempo, with the smattering piano keys throughout, Chris Robinson singing about the repairing of a long broken relationship, whether that be an abstract scenario, a brotherly bond broken (Robinson Brothers’ complicated history is much of the reason for previous Black Crowes break ups), or to the fans, faithful through all these years.

I’ve seen the Black Crowes described as America’s answer to the Rolling Stones, and I kind of see the parallels, both musically and strategically in how they release an album of new material.  Happiness Bastards is a great example of how a band who had their pomp a generation ago should release an album of new material (maybe the lengthy hiatus is a factor, but let’s ignore that for the sake if the review).  The music could be classed as ‘Classic Crowes’ – dirty, bluesy Rock ‘N’ Roll!  If you are a fan of their old releases, you will love this LP, and if you’re a newcomer who loves this, you should check out their back catalogue!!