The Black Crowes: Happiness Bastards (Silver Arrow) - review | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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The Black Crowes

Happiness Bastards

Silver Arrow

Mar 18, 2024 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


The The Black Crowes’ last two albums, 2008’s Warpaint and 2009’s Before the Frost…Until the Freeze, the former a studio set and the latter performed live at the late Levon Helm’s Woodstock, NY studio The Barn, found the band returning to its roots after a somewhat exploratory and relatively middling mid-period that saw also saw the Robinson brothers take some solo detours. After Before the Frost…, Chris and Rich Robinson parted ways again, this time seemingly for good, with Chris gravitating toward hippie jam territory and releasing a solid catalog of albums with The Chris Robinson Brotherhood and Rich moving on to his own solo singer-songwriter pursuits. They were the last albums the Robinson brothers would record as The Black Crowes until now.

Happiness Bastards, of course, marks the return of Chris and Rich Robinson to the band moniker that brought them their fame and fortune. Compared to their last recorded works together, Happiness Bastards is much different. Which is to say that it’s less nuanced Americana and more of a return to the meat and potatoes rock of the band’s debut, Shake Your Money Maker. Of course, such a return can be a tricky prospect. To wit, there’s some true magnificence on Happiness Bastards, but there is also other that might be described as leaning toward retread.

The album starts with the furious slide guitar of “Bedside Manners,” a track that seems to sum the history of The Black Crowes in one soulful three and a half minute romp. “Rats and Clowns” is as much of a propulsive rocker as the Crowes have in its catalog, all saucy shake, rattle, and roll. And the album’s lead single “Wanting and Waiting” is nothing more or less than classic Shake Your Money Maker-esque Black Crowes, built of a stellar guitar lick, augmented by a brief but essential organ line and female background singers, and featuring the best Chris Robinson vocal since the band’s heyday.

It’s worth pointing out that The Black Crowes might have been at their best when mixing the sublime with the upfront. The band’s third album, Amorica, from 30 years ago, might have been the high mark in this regard, and to a certain degree, with Happiness Bastards’ echoing of earlier days, the band has sacrificed some of that subtlety and nuance.

“Cross Your Fingers” starts with gentle fingerpicking and sly slide, reminiscent of the best of Amorica, but it’s just a tease, the song exploding into electric funk before the first minute and continuing in this vein through to the end. The band expands its palette somewhat with country star Lainey Wilson’s guest on “Wilted Rose;” Wilson harmonizing with Robinson on the choruses is one of the album’s highlights. And even more so, “Flesh Wound” might be the poppiest southern rocker the boys have ever recorded, defying the listener not to get up and dance. It’s the track on Happiness Bastards that most moves the template forward, and gloriously at that.

No one would deny the fact that having Chris and Rich Robinson working together again as The Black Crowes is monumental and shall I even say needed. The dearth of Black Crowes in the musical landscape was a huge blight. And Happiness Bastards is an incredibly successful return, reminding of what the band sounded like at their best, pushing them again to the fore of the type of American roots music only they can write and perform. To say that it may not be the band’s best ever work is a mere trifle. The biggest shoes to fill are their own, and for much of Happiness Bastards, Chris and Rich Robinson acquit themselves admirably. The biggest takeaway might be that this is certainly not a band whose best days are behind them. One can only hope for more to come. (www.theblackcrowes.com)

Author rating: 7/10

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Average reader rating: 8/10



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