The Magpie Salute by The Magpie SaluteRelease date: June 9, 2017
Label: Eagle Records
As I’m sure you are aware The Magpie Salute is a new band formed by Rich Robinson out of the ashes of The Black Crowes, featuring several ex-Crowes alumni, plus other musical friends and associates. As a lifelong fan of The Black Crowes, my initial feelings towards this album were a natural warmth and excitement coloured by a certain amount of melancholy. This release does seem to mark the end of The Black Crowes, the band Rich formed with brother Chris way back in 1989. The bands existence and indeed the brothers relationship, has grown ever more fractious as time as gone on, and if Rich’s version of events are to believed then there’s no small irony in Chris calling his current outfit a ‘Brotherhood’. But boy, when they were good together they were very good together and as much as I enjoyed some of their work away from the band it never gave me the same thrill as The Crowes in full flight.
What we have with The Magpie Salute, however, may well be the next best thing; featuring ex-Crowes Sven Pipien on bass, Marc Ford on guitar and the now sadly departed Eddie Harsch on keys, this debut is both a nod to the bands past, a celebration of it’s musical talents and a hopeful glimpse into a happier collective future for those involved. The rest of the merry band along for the ride are Joe Magistro on drums, Matt Slocum the new guy on keys, and Adrien Reju and Danielia Cotton on back vocals.
The key word that sums up the mood of this record is freedom. Here is a fantastic group of musicians enjoying the freedom to play what they like, how they like. The band is filled out in the lead vocal ranks by British born vocalist John Hogg who co-wrote the opening and only original track ‘Omission’ with Rich. The sole studio recorded number, the rest of the tracks being recorded live in front of an audience in Woodstock, ‘Omission”s tight running time and thunderous Zeppelin groove set it apart and show that Hogg will surely be an important part of the talent pool when it comes to writing that more traditional second album.
Of the remaining nine songs, seven run to over seven minutes in length and see the band move through a variety of styles comfortably and with enormous skill. You might imagine this turning into a jam session where lots of self indulgent musicians noodle their way through some old favourites, sullying them in the progress, but you would be quite wrong. Even at over nine minutes The Black Crowes ‘Wiser Time’ is as powerful and soulful as the original, perhaps even more so as it builds majestically from a shimmering opening and urgent early verses, with Robinson and Hogg doubling up superbly on vocals. There is then an extended instrumental interlude where Ford and Robinson trade killer solos atop gossamer keys and snappy percussion. It never loses it’s way, never rests, just powers on in uninhibited splendour as Hogg absolutely belts out the finale chorus.
Of course you might expect them to play the shit out of old Black Crowes numbers, but what may be less expected are the brilliant jazz-blues chops on display on Joe Sample’s ‘Goin’ Down South’ and War’s ‘War Drums’. They even make it possible for me to enjoy Pink Floyd on a funky and louche ‘Fearless’. And finally, Robinson and company make the sometimes tricky prospect of a rock band playing reggae look easy on their classy rendition of Bob Marley’s ‘Time Will Tell’ which eases the album to it’s close.
Less surprising covers of the traditional ‘Ain’t No Cane’ and The Faces ‘Glad and Sorry’ are no less beguiling or satisfying. ‘Ain’t No Cane’ finds the band going toe-to-toe with comparisons with The Band, as Hogg, Robinson and Ford take turns on verses on a stirring folk rock lament that would probably be my favourite track if it wasn’t for the presence of a gorgeous version of Ronnie Lane’s masterpiece ‘Glad and Sorry’. Massive respect to Hogg for doing the lyric justice and sparkling work on keys by Slocum/Harsch…it brings a lump to my throat every time I play it.
Considering the strange mix of studio and live, the slightly risky choice of songs and the untimely death of a friend and band member, this album is an absolute triumph. If you can’t enjoy The Magpie Salute then you are clearly one for sorrow.