The Black Crowes are long gone. It has been three years since they split, ten years since their last album Warpaint and more than twenty years since their commercial peak when despite everyone else playing grunge or Britpop The Black Crowes sold thirty million albums and hit the number one album spot in America with The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion.
The Robinson brothers have since gone their separate ways professionally speaking, singer Chris with his Brotherhood and guitarist Rich with a new collective, The Magpie Salute, and it is the Salute who unveiled their debut studio album at Rough Trade East last night with a six-song acoustic show before a later headline performance at Oslo in Hackney, East London.
Why does this matter?
The album, High Water I (part II is promised next year) is superb, and perhaps the best thing released by a Crowe since those Lost Crowes tapes from the mid nineties.
Joining Robinson is Southern Harmony and Amorica-era lead guitarist Marc Ford, and, among other things, it is the addition of Ford that makes The Magpie Salute particularly worthy of notice. The Crowes’ creative peak coincided with the hire of Ford from his former band Burning Tree, and the two guitar players have formed a special bond, weaving sonic tapestries together.
Because of Robinson’s tendency to play with alternate tunings, they share an understanding comparable to Keith Richards and Mick Taylor. Ford has a lightness of touch and beautiful style while Robinson has never stuck strictly to his rhythm role, acting as a foil for Ford’s bluesy licks with his own special style of playing, half rhythm, half lead.
What is exciting about the new album is that it reflects the maturity of the individuals, while still evoking those classic early Crowes albums. The band are no longer the new kids on the block, railing against corporate sponsorship and sticking it to The Man. They are now in their late forties, but crucially haven’t stood still.
Robinson fingerpicks a drop-tuned drone-y pattern on title track High Water, a meandering riff you imagine Nick Drake could have come up with. Ford then skirts over the top, then the two fill the gaps in between each other’s playing. Live, the two players build on the recorded version in a most uplifting fashion. It’s a natural progression from The Crowes and it’s a wonderful thing to witness live.
And how do you replace Chris Robinson? As it turns out, you hire the British singer John Hogg, a man who first met Robinson when his band, Moke, supported the Crowes. The two played together after the Crowes first split, in a band called Hookah Brown. Hogg has a fabulous voice, turns in an excellent performance and is a strong performer in his own right. It may be Robinson’s band, but Hogg is front and centre.
The three piece played a set at Rough Trade East before signing copies of their debut album. Playing acoustic guitars we get to hear mellower versions of the songs, but in the title track and single “Send Me An Omen” in particular the results are thrilling.
Rough Trade East 10th August 2018 Set List:
- Mary The Gypsy
- Walk on Water
- For The Wind
- Sister Moon
- High Water
- Send Me An Omen
High Water I was released on 10th August 2018
Categories: Hard Rock