Two years after The Magpie Salute released their debut live record, the band make a
powerful return with their first studio album High Water (released 10 August; Mascot/Eagle Rock).
In many ways the album represents a cathartic moment for Black Crowes’ fans, as it was difficult to foresee what might happen when it all became too much for brothers Chris and Rich Robinson, and the big black bird went down in flames. Since then however, two bands have arisen from the ashes: on the one hand Chris Robinson Brotherhood and on the other, Rich Robinson’s The Magpie Salute.
Touchingly, the name of the younger brother’s band emerges, and will forever be tied to, the former. Rich Robinson has explained that the magpie, the bird, is apparently part of the crow family. The link goes much deeper however as Robinson continues to play with ex-Crowes’ bass player Sven Pipien and guitarist Marc Ford. They are joined by long time collaborators drummer Joe Magistro and keyboardist Matt Slocum, both of whom played on Robinson’s last album, along with singer John Hogg (who Rich had previously worked with on the Hookah Brown project).
This 12 track album has already produced the singles Send Me an Omen, For the Wind, and Sister Moon, but it has a lot more to offer than that. It draws on a plethora of musical styles – including rock, country, soul and blues - from a number of eras, as do its lyrical themes relating to the importance of community, political protest and love.
The album opens strongly with a pop-rock number Mary the Gypsy, which immediately harks back to the band’s roots. A pulsating rhythm and driving guitar riffs seem to throw down the gauntlet to anyone wanting to doubt this band’s intent.
This is followed by the lovely title track, High Water, with Rich Robinson on his Fender Esquire B-bender and Sven Pipien on his Sadowsky bass, which reminds this reviewer of something Led Zeppelin might have produced in one of their more mellower moments.
This leads into the blues-based Send Me an Omen, which also evokes the band’s roots. This track contains some moving soulful harmonies and rich vocals, which remind listeners, if it were necessary, why Rich Robinson continues to work with the amazingly talented John Hogg.
For The Wind has a great funky groove, lots of variety in guitar and a lovely riff from Ford, which recalls the Allman Brothers. Sister Moon showcases the band’s depth as the track is a piano based, almost maudlin, number, with some lovely lap steel, which proves again that this album is much more than simply the ‘Crowes’ revisited’.
Color Blind has a strong anti-racist message and is followed by another driving blues and rock track, Take it All. The next two tracks, Walk on Water and Hand in Hand might be described as two simple but catchy pop songs, which both seem to hark back musically to the 1970s.
The album closes with another outstanding track Open Up. Moving into deep south blues territory with building harmonies and seductively threatening guitar riffs, this song confirms both this album’s status and the huge potential of this band.
High Water II is apparently already slated for release in 2019. Crows, magpies, whatever… it is clear that with The Magpie Salutes, the phoenix has arisen.