"More soulful than a gospel convention, warmer than a mother's love and groovier than the Grand Canyon": The Black Crowes return in righteous form on Happiness Bastards

The Black Crowes are still shaking on reunion album Happiness Bastards

The Black Crowes - Happiness Bastards cover art
(Image: © Silver Arrow Records)

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When The Black Crowes called it a day there should have been weeping in the streets. The news that the Robinson brothers at the heart of this monumentally great rock’n’roll band, who never made a bad record and crafted at least one masterpiece with 1992’s The Southern Harmony And Musical Companion, had decided to bury the hatchet in the ground rather than in each other was cause for hats in the air and doubles all around. 

The dynamite reunion shows promised much, and single Wanting And Waiting delivered: the big Rich Robinson riff, the Hammond swell, the hand claps, the backing singers’ ‘ooh’, and Chris Robinson with his ‘blood on fire’ almost audibly twirling the mic and throwing shapes. It shares DNA with 1991’s Jealous Again, but so what? It’s their thing, and it’s what we want anyway. 

It’s not even the best track on this marvellous album, which leaps out of the traps like a greyhound on shore leave with Bedside Manners, all slide, pounding drums and tinkling piano. Chris warns some young one not to ‘shake his tree’, before grunting and yelping through the breakdown, and joining the crew for the ‘long time gone’ refrain. 

Then on Rats And Clowns Rich is Angus Young-ing for all he’s worth. ‘It ain’t killed me yet,’ hollers Chris. Cross Your Fingers seances the late guitarist Paul Kossoff back for a few minutes, Wilted Rose is a gorgeous country-soul ballad helped in no small part by Lainey Wilson’s vocals, and Dirty Cold Sun gets down like none of their rivals or descendants ever could. Bleed It Dry does a wailing harmonica bluesy stomp, Flesh Wound is, surprisingly, close to 80s indie pop although it still remembers to rock, and Kindred Friend, the closing ode to rekindled relations, could melt your ex’s cold heart. 

Best of all, right now, is Follow The Moon: Rich returns from another successful foray into the dimension where the rockin’ riffs roam free with a fresh prize, and builds on it with a harmony line from the heavens, while Chris calls out to ‘holy rollers’ and ‘wild-eyed servants’ promising ‘nothing synthetic, only pure’, and the whole thing swings like a battleship balancing on a pinhead. 

You get the idea, there’s no reinventing the wheel going on, but who needs that class of tiresome messing when they can have a rock’n’roll record that’s funkier than a tramp’s kacks, more soulful than a gospel convention, warmer than a mother’s love and groovier than the Grand Canyon?

Pat Carty

Pat Carty is a writer for Irish monthly music and politics magazine Hot Press. You'll also find him at The Times, Irish Independent, Irish Times and Irish Examiner, and on radio wherever it's broadcast.