It’s been two years since The Black Crowes “officially” disbanded, and this time, the breakup seems to be sticking. While Crowes singer Chris Robinson is now fronting The Chris Robinson Brotherhood, his actual brother, guitarist-singer Rich Robinson, is soldiering on with some ex-Crowes bandmates in a logical continuation dubbed The Magpie Salute, which looks to take the Southern soul and blues rock of his signature band and supersize it.
The Magpie Salute’s self-titled debut album opens with “Omission,” a straightforward, hard-rocking track featuring a soaring chorus sung by former Hookah Brown lead singer John Hogg. It’s a nice table-setter and has lots of layered guitar and a funk-driven backbeat. Those guitar layers are due in part to the presence of not only Marc Ford (who served two stints in the Crowes) but also Nico Bereciartua to create a wall of amplified harmony. “Omission” also stands out for being the only original on the album written by Robinson and Hogg, and it’s the only song that doesn’t present itself as a studio performance in front of an audience. (The other songs feature applause breaks at
A take on Delaney and Bonnie’s “Comin’ Home” is a superb spotlight for drummer Joe Magistro, who provides a steady, chugging backbeat along with some great fills that support the rest of the band’s soulful vamping. The Magpie Salute doubles down on the home theme with a version of the Crowes song “What Is Home,” which originally appeared on the 2009 release Before the Frost … Until the Freeze. As played by Rich Robinson’s current band, the song has new energy and is less spacey. Vocally, Hogg doesn’t match the range of the original, but he succeeds in taking it down a few levels, leaving out the screech that Chris Robinson provided the first time around. The next track is a straight reading of the Crowes staple “Wiser Time” (from 1994’s Amorica), and the dueling guitars of Robinson and Ford that were so prominent in the mid-’90s incarnation of The Black Crowes are in fine form once again. There’s also some incredible, underscored keyboard work on this song and others from Crowes veteran Eddie Harsch in what turned out to be his last recorded work (he died in November 2016 at age 59).
Another highlight is “Ain’t No More Cane,” a traditional prison song that gets set loose here as a full-on tribute to a version done by Bob Dylan and The Band on The Basement Tapes. Robinson and Hogg trade verses effortlessly while the rest of the 10-piece ensemble soars around them. The classic-rock connection continues with a version of Pink Floyd’s psychedelic thumper “Fearless” (Magistro and former Crowes bassist Sven Pipien do a nice job re-creating the powerful bottom portion of the song) and a sweet take on The Faces’ “Glad and Sorry” (on which Harsch shines throughout with organ flourishes).
Here’s hoping that this 10-song album serves as just a sample of what The Magpie Salute has up its collective sleeve — and that more new material emerges from the Robinson-Hogg songwriting team. With a group this big, there are bound to be more original ideas ruminating in the stew.
— By Mike Madden