With a name winking at the guitarist’s former group, The Black Crowes, Rich Robinson has debuted his new band, The Magpie Salute, with a self-titled first album mostly recorded live at Applehead Studios in Woodstock, New York. It’s a bittersweet opening statement, being the last record of the late former Crowes keys player Eddie Harsch, but it is also an often loud and pleasingly effective introduction. Crammed with plenty of guitar workouts, particularly while examining cover versions of ‘70s touchstones like Delaney and Bonnie, War, Bob Marley, and Pink Floyd, and their modern-day counterparts, the Crowes, themselves, The Magpie Salute is a spirited reunion of Robinson and his Crowes axe-man Marc Ford, as well as bassist Sven Pipien.
The partnership of the former mates is as combustible as it was two decades ago, lighting up the first-side starter “Omission,” powered by the big vocals of John Hogg. This is riff-rock reborn, robustly redressing the Crowes’ “What is Home” as a chugging hybrid of Let It Bleed era Rolling Stones and CSNY. There’s a slight backroad drift on “Wiser Time,” ascending on Ford’s efforts, then a jazz cocktail on “Goin’ Down South,” with blue notes dotting the vibes.
The second half sags beautifully into a piano interlude on “War Drums,” the guitars then catch fire, coated in reverb against a wonking clavinet. “Ain’t No More Cane” sounds like a lost classic of The Band, but with female harmonies, with the escalating liquid warble of Pink Floyd’s “Fearless” following. Two more nods- to the Faces’ “Glad and Sorry” and Marley’s “Time Will Tell”- take on more the rock and Southern gospel of the Salute’s roots than they do their original likenesses; the latter extended and shaking its way to the finish line, flush with harmonies and wah-guitar.
The Magpie Salute rises and sleeps under the same flag of guitar-driven rock as the Crowes once did, for sure. And, that massively successful group played its share of covers, as well. It will be interesting to see what happens when Robinson writes in earnest with this new and talented outfit in mind. The return of Ford is worth celebrating on its own, but surrounded by familiar faces, has inspired a hearty optimism and eager anticipation for what’s to come.