On their day, The Black Crowes were untouchable, one of the best live bands ever. Volatile and unpredictable, you turned up at a gig and didn’t know what version of The Black Crowes you were going to get. The road-frazzled version that saw vocalist Chris Robinson and original bassist Johnny Colt jump into the crowd during an early gig in Edinburgh to sort out some nugget that hit guitarist Rich Robinson with a coin… or the band that returned a few years later during ‘The Southern Harmony’ tour, and put on a gig that can only be described as ‘life affirming’. Easily one of my top five gigs of all time. A band full of confidence, after releasing a genuine classic album, that still has the ability decades later to bring grown men to their knees. The Black Crowes are no more, but the guitar duo from said album, ‘The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion’, have re-united as part of The Magpie Salute, and by jove, it’s great to hear Marc Ford and Rich Robinson make sweet music together again. The Black Crowes did everything their way, and original member Rich Robinson has continued this approach throughout his own career. Here, The Magpie Salute have recorded their debut album in front of a live audience in Woodstock. No studio trickery, just the earthy, organic feel that latter day Crowes were famous for.
Opening track, ‘Omission’ is the only one recorded in the studio, and is a perfect example of how potent a guitarist Robinson is. A classic mix of blues rock with a dash of southern that begins with trademark Robinson riffs. It could easily have been recorded back in ‘92, but instead, fast forward 25 years, and Robinson is basically saying “hold my pint” as he strides forward to put any young pretenders back in their place. British vocalist John Hogg possesses a fine set of pipes, and brings a rare warmth to the party, but ultimately it’s the re-united pairing of Ford and Robinson that has the neck hairs standing to attention. Damn, it’s great to hear Ford wail again.
From here on in, we’re in the live setting, as The Magpie Salute set out to make it look easy. The remainder of the album is a mixture of cover versions that include Bob Marley’s ‘Time Will Tell’, War’s ‘War Drums’, and an incredible version of Delaney & Bonnie’s ‘Coming Home’. The latter is especially poignant, as it features some fine piano work from the late Eddie Harsch, who sadly passed away after the recording of this album. An integral part of The Black Crowes sound, Harsch leaves behind a fine legacy, and his work on this album is a timely reminder of how important a good keyboard player is to a band. Mixed in with these hand picked covers, are a few nods to Robinson’s past, with some Crowes tunes thrown in. ‘Wiser Time’ and ‘What Is Home’ were the choices on the night of recording, but really it could have been anything, as The Magpie Salute mix up their sets each night. Those lucky enough to have caught them during their recent London residency will surely have purred as they broke out a different set of classics each night. Flip side is, if you missed a night and that night was the one time they played your favourite… them’s the breaks, dude.
A total surprise of an album that came straight out of left field. The respective solo work from both Ford and Robinson were of decent quality, but this is something else… music to get lost in. An album of original material must surely be on the cards. ‘Omission’ is too good to be a one off.
Review: Dave Stott