Album review: THE MAGPIE SALUTE – s/t

The Magpie Salute

[Release date 09.06.17]

The long-awaited release of The Magpie Salute’s self-titled debut album is like meeting an old flame after many years – you wonder how she’s stood the test of time, if she still has it….and then she walks in and floors you, just like she always used to.

Hey, the Crowes final divorce hurt us all but now with The Magpie Salute joining CRB as a hungry, hard-touring outfit (check out their respective dates just for this year !!), it feels a bit like musical bi-sexuality….twice as much choice for getting off. Having witnessed the Salute’s recent romp through London, I was on tenterhooks for this release and its arrival feels like getting back into your own bed after months on the road.

Just like Sinatra used to in LA, the band recorded live in front of a very small, select audience at Applehead Recordings in Woodstock, New York, and the album also features a sweet, sentimental touch, containing as it does, the last recorded work before the sad and untimely passing of former Crowes keys-man, Eddie Harsch.

It may surprise some that this debut album is all cover versions bar one but consider a couple of things; for one, the band probably hasn’t been together long enough yet to have fine-tuned its own compositions for release and secondly, (and this is the real reason I love this album) that Robinson and the Salute’s clear intent was to record songs that “they just thought would be cool to play”. That’s what we need more of – artistic freedom but more importantly an artist doing what he really feels is right instead of kowtowing to some iteration of “the man”.

Following the raunchy, solid opener of the album’s only original song – Robinson/Hogg (vocals) composition, “Omission” – the hair on the back of your neck stands up upon hearing the lush opening tones to the Delaney and Bonnie cover “Comin’ Home”….for goodness sake, don’t tell him, but I once heard Rich Robinson tuning up at a sound check and would have been happy to just pick up my guitar and do that. Faithfulness to these cover songs runs throughout this album like bubbles through a beery river and yet there is an honest, respectful Magpie “salute” to each and every one which makes them fresh and relevant.

Born out of long musical friendships and trusted cohorts, The Magpie Salute plan to continue finding cool songs to re-visit, and keep the Crowes legacy alive – that’s a couple of extremely rich veins to mine for talent like this band so I could probably wait for originals.

In true keeping with doughnut bands – you see, it’s all about the jam – and like the Crowes, Robinson’s band of travelling minstrels manages to extend many of these rollicking tunes to seven minutes or more, thereby conquering one of the hardest disciplines in music – jamming it out with consistent and continual purpose, Robinson’s penchant for light and shade…..but never, ever gratuitously.

Alongside vibrant and lively versions of Crowes classics “What Is Home” and “Wiser Time”, the meandering, jazzy rendition of Bobby Hutcherson’s “Goin’ Down South” is more feral and brighter than the 1970 original whilst, in the same jazz/rock fusion theme, War’s “War Drums” rambles and peaks and portrays a band on fire.

The much-covered traditional prison work song “Ain’t No More Cane” thankfully recalls The Band’s version in all its rather gorgeous Americana revelry, than the Dylan or Gillan re-works. And you’d have to say, it seems like Pink Floyd wrote “Fearless” purely so that The Magpie Salute could come along 46 years later and splurge their refurbishing DNA all over it.

Rod and The Faces get “out-faced” on “Glad and Sorry” which fits very well on this album – it must have been so much fun going through everyone’s record collection for “material to Magpie”. That well has almost infinite depth with such an accomplished group of musicians able to interpret, extrapolate and then comprehensively nail it.

The album almost wouldn’t be complete without some “herb-infused” reggae, reminiscent of some of Robinson’s most satisfying jams in that other band he played with (and who, in fact, also covered this song on Southern Harmony). Marley’s “Time Will Tell” gets the treatment and is a perfect coda to this album.

On this evidence, there is plenty to come from The Magpie Salute – their limit is probably the entire history of recorded music plus the Crowes crowd-pleasers, obscure and otherwise, and I can only imagine what quality will flow when they get around to writing original songs. A Tour de Force indeed, all driven by spiritual leader Rich Robinson – with total respect for all the members of the Magpie Salute, I never thought I’d see a repeat of the way Leon Russell orchestrated Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen but now I have….and I believe. *****

Review by Mark “Mad Dog” Shaw

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