Album review: STONE THE CROWS, MAGGIE BELL (reissues)

STONE THE CROWS - Ontinuous Performance

Repertoire [Release date 25.06.21]

Noted blues rock band Stone The Crows  formed in Glasgow 1969 after Alex Harvey introduced his younger guitarist Leslie Harvey to singer Maggie Bell. Bell already had a notable career and her voice, big bluesy and soulful, is often compared to Janis Joplin.

Although the material has been previously issued, it has been out of print for a while and German label Repertoire always do a fine job with packaging.

The first two albums, both released in 1970, feature Maggie Bell, Les Harvey, bassist Jimmer Dewar, drummer Colin Allen and keyboard player John McGinnis. With a solid blues backbone, the music mixes rock and soul, and although at times a little disjointed it is excellent and the band definitely made a mark.  The keyboards and guitar interplay well and some tracks feature a vocal interplay between Bell and Dewar. Harvey’s guitar ranges from lounge blues on some tracks to very fiery.

The standout track on Stone The Crows is the 17 minute I Saw America (taking up the whole of side 2 of the original LP). There’s some real classic and solid blues that has a live feel, and a range of moods too, a musical journey which makes the album worthwhile getting on its own.

Ode To John Law kicks off with Sad Mary which has a definite nod to Deep Purple. The album continues in much the same vein as the debut and is verging on essential listening.

Dewar and McGinnis then left and were replaced by bassist Steve Thompson and pianist Ronnie Leahy; the musicianship was still there for 1971’s Teenage Licks and there are some great riffs, Bell’s vocals still powerful, but the album didn’t have quite the same flow.

Then tragedy, as guitarist Les Harvey was electrocuted on stage; a guitarist who deserved to be known for so much more than this incident.

The band continued with guitarist Jimmy McCulloch (later of Wings), for 1972’s Ontinuous Performance. This was the band’s only album to chart, and it would be totally unfair to call it their weakest album, but no band could get over the loss of someone like Harvey. However, this is still a wonderful album. Although not as bluesy, there is a fine version of Penicillin Blues (a track previously recorded by Alex Harvey).

The band soon split, all the members going their separate ways. Ronnie Leahy would later play with Jack Bruce and Nazareth.

Maggie Bell (still under the management of Peter Grant) recorded two solo albums in the mid 70s, included in this reissue campaign. 1974’s Queen Of The Night takes much influence of Stone The Crows but is less bluesy; opener Caddo Queen is a little more soulful and definitely funkier.

The title track is similar and typical of the album; Maggie’s vocals are still powerful and solid here, plenty of range and feel, but the music is little more middle of the road soulful rock. The fire of the first two STC albums is definitely lacklustre. Maybe trying to hit the zeitgeist but it’s just not the same. Maybe my expectations are askew, but I’d take Maggie’s voice on any album.

The following year’s Suicide Sal is an equally fine effort and opens with a solid take on Free’s Wishing Well. Bell’s vocals at their best (this is where we got the Joplin comparison, although in my view Bell’s vocals were superior). There is a little more direction on this album and it’s definitely the better of the two. And collectors may note that Jimmy Page guests on this album.

Repertoire have packaged these albums well; the music sounds great and the gatefold card sleeves with booklet (extensive sleevenotes) make them look as good as they sound. No extras, but as a collection of 6 albums (I can’t pick a favourite, the 6 go well together as a set), I’d recommend these in any collection. ****

Review by Joe Geesin

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