The Black Crowes | Happiness Bastards – New Studio Release Review

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The Black Crowes are back with Happiness Bastards, their collection of all-new, original music for the first time in 15 years. The album features the founders Chris Robinson on vocals and his brother Rich on guitar, along with longtime bassist Sven Pipien. Together with a suitable cache of backing musicians, they serve up 10 piping-hot tracks faithful to that classic Black Crowes vibe and sound. Producer Jay Joyce worked closely with the band to capture their unique brand of spitfire, spirit, and vigor, and it most certainly paid off.

After a strong run in the 1990s, the three albums by the Black Crowes in the 2000s were a mixed bag of hit and miss. With Happiness Bastards, they’ve clearly returned to form with ragged rockers like “Bedside Manners” and “Rats And Clowns” to kick the record off. Once you survive the initial blast, slip on “Cross Your Fingers,” a soulful, funky firestarter that’ll have you salivating at the crunchy turnarounds before the final stretch. “Wanting And Waiting,” the album’s boisterous first single released at the beginning of the year, shuts down any and all misgivings about the Crowes’ ability to deliver a punchy and catchy hip-shaker around Chris Robinson’s tongue-in-cheeky lyrics at this stage in their storied career. Slicing through the groove, it’s as if they’ve merely taken up from where they left off. But there’s also an extra ounce of grit and determination, as if to say they’re nowhere near ready to retire.

Since their reunion in 2020, the Robison brothers have embraced their audience, as well as themselves, in a much more meaningful and mature manner than most keen observers ever thought possible. Outstanding solo ventures aside, Happiness Bastards revives the passion and musical chemistry that always drove the two brothers to their greatest achievements. This record proves they need each other more than they realized. Plus, there’s a sense of willingness to step out of their comfort zone, as evidenced on their collaboration with country singer and starlet Lainey Wilson, whose silky vocals line and brush the melodies on “Wilted Rose.”

And just when you catch your breath, gutsy numbers like “Dirt Cold Sun” and “Follow The Moon” knock you back on your ass. In between, the bluesy brassiness of “Bleed It Dry” lays out a honky-tonk rattle that leaves your ears sizzling. Robert Johnson would be impressed. Out of nowhere, “Flesh Wound” bounces into the airwaves with the kind of spunkiness and joy you wouldn’t expect to hear from the Black Crowes. Never predictable, yet heavy on the sauce you’ve come to expect and desire — that’s about where Happiness Bastards lands.

As a finale, “Kindred Friend” hums into view as if Neil Young were out for a jog with the Stray Gators and they all happened to stumble into the studio where the Crowes were laying the song down. Listening to that lazy slide work rub up against Chris Robinson’s incalculable voice and harmonica toots, you can’t help but think these guys have another half-dozen albums or so in them before they call it a day. Safe to say, there’s a strong second wind (and a lot of cooperation) in play to keep the Black Crowes rocking well into their golden years. Who knows — maybe that bird on their windowsill has a second life after all.

~ Shawn Perry

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