The Black Crowes: A Triumphant Return With 'Happiness Bastards'

Photo by John Davisson/Invision/AP, File

The last time the habitually warring brothers from Georgia released an album of original rock and roll rhythm and blues was 2009’s “Before the Frost…Until the Freeze.” It has been way too long for this Black Crowes fan.


With the release of “Happiness Bastards,” the brothers are back and true to form. Their best song in decades is "Rats and Clowns." Now, I'll admit I've only listened to the record a couple of times and will undoubtedly listen to it dozens more, so this opinion may change.

"Happiness Bastards" is vintage Black Crowes and harkens back to 1998's "By Your Side," featuring my favorite track, "Horse Head." The opening track, "Bedside Manners," wastes no time announcing the band's triumphant return with an obvious and fitting homage to Aerosmith.

I wish original drummer Steve Gorman was still in the band because I'm funny that way; I like it when bands stay as close to their original lineup as humanly possible. Sometimes, as in the case of Led Zeppelin, The Who, AC/DC, and The Rolling Stones, that isn't possible. Still, this is an effing fantastic musical statement by the Robinson Brothers.

There have been more than a few rock bands featuring members of the same family, specifically brothers. Think of The Kinks, Van Halen, AC/DC, and the Allman Brothers, to name a few. This certainly adds an additional layer of emotional complexity to the delicate balance of egos that goes into making successful bands cohesive and able to navigate the tremendous pressures of the music business. It is no secret the Robinson Brothers didn’t always manage to pull it off.


However, after going nearly a decade without talking to each other, these brothers are older, wiser, and ready to rock as never before. "Happiness Bastards" is evidence of that, and it is great to hear that come out loudly, clearly, musically, and lyrically in the album's closing track, “Kindred Friends.”

If you are a Black Crowes fan, you need to get this record. Indeed, if you are a fan of rock and roll music played by musicians who understand their craft, you need to get this record. If you are a fan of rock and roll and lament, as I do, the fact that there are so few great bands around anymore, buy this record.

When you do buy "Happiness Bastards," pay especially close attention to the songs I’ve already mentioned, but also raise a glass and the volume to other standout tracks, including “Waiting and Wanting,” which features a tight but loose rhythm section. Don’t miss “Bleed it Dry,” which could’ve been recorded circa 1969-71 and appeared on The Rolling Stones’ “Let It Bleed” or “Gimme Shelter.”


There’s a Solomonic truism that there’s nothing new under the sun, and that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The Black Crowes aren’t simply imitators of others' music; they are perhaps one of the best examples of how music is in the soul. As an art, it is neither created from nothing nor destroyed in perpetuity but rather transcends time and place.

In this regard, Chris and Rich Robinson are timely vessels of hope for a desperately needed rebirth of the audacity and raucous attitude of good old fashioned rock and roll. On "Happiness Bastards," they’ve succeeded as they have so many times before. Keep it up, fellas!


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