Beauty pervades even the saddest situations, and Happy Book gives the impression that the perpetually ornery Jerry Joseph is coming to grips with that and maybe loosening up a bit. The opening lyric of the two-disc album’s title track reads “I gotta tell ya, I really love to get high.” Joseph will, no doubt, find plenty of common ground among his audience in that case, but more important is the tone it sets for the album. He also won’t find much objection to the catchy song’s funked-up, chunky guitar riff and simple, singable chorus. Though a wide range of subject matter and emotion occupy the album, Happy Book is a mostly up-tempo, musically and lyrically engaging record full of hooks.
Joseph growls and warbles a bit like Vic Chesnutt on "The Beautiful Dirt," makes moody Dire Straits-style magic on "Kicking Hong Kong" and rides a chugging train of rhythm on "Radio Cab." The instrumentation is well-realized and thoughtful throughout the album. "Radio Cab" and “Ship” boast very well-placed accordion, and the spooky "Anaconda" uses banjo to great effect. Every guitar used on Happy Book seems to have a mean streak. They come searing fiercely through the chorus of "Wonder Wheel," slicing through the verses of the title track and snarling behind the reggae-tinged rhythm of “Campo Miguel.”
“LAX,” the dramatic desert-country finale of Happy Book’s first disc, finds Joseph engaging in a rundown of his favorite or not so favorite things (“There’s the mission bell/there’s the telephone/hand claps and marching bands/drums from the holy land’) and conveying the breadth of human experience that can be witnessed at a place like Los Angeles International. Disc two starts with “Mile High Mile Deep,” a cathartic blast of horn-laden rock and roll. The horns reappear to lend a Stones-like soul indulgence to “Temple of Love,” which is a downright sappy tune by Joseph’s standards. The pendulum of mood swings on disc two, which is slightly more reserved than the boisterous first side. “Thanks and Praises” features the always-intoxicating sound of baritone sax squonking underneath an otherwise generic soul-rock groove, and “The Road Home” is a joyous gathering of acoustic instruments, pedal steel, accordion, and sweet harmonies. Happy Book is Joseph’s richest collection yet, a diverse, hopeful listen with an awful lot of musical and lyrical nooks to explore.