Rich Robinson and Magpie Salute, a gang of band members collected during Robinson’s time with the Black Crowes and subsequent solo ventures, are slated to release High Water II on October 18th via Eagle Rock Entertainment and Mascot Label Group. This album is the second half of High Water I, released in August 2018. High Water II delivers the high octane guitar and masterful instrumentation expected from the esteemed musicians, and according to Robinson it is supposed to be a seamless continuation of the project. This half, however, occasionally falls flat, resembling a collection of songs left off the more inspired High Water I.
The album booms into the listener’s headphones with “Sooner or Later.” A scratchy riff lightens the combination of Joe Magistro on drums and Sven Pipien on bass. Their sound combines throughout High Water II, driving the album forward. On “Sooner or Later,” John Hogg’s tortured vocals eventually enter and rise above Magistro and Pipien before they all clear up in unison, as Hogg is joined by background vocalists on the catchy chorus. The song abruptly stops and Matt Slocum’s keys twinkle. The song dives into a fuzzy guitar solo, which roars above Magistro’s rumbling drums. The next few songs bring a similar intensity with drums and bass that groove, and Robinson and Marc Ford, also of the Black Crowes, offer searing guitar. The vocals, however, lack the precision to match.
Then comes, “In Here,” which, after its September release, is trending on Active Rock, Classic Rock, and AAA stations. The listener gets drawn back in with the American roots rock sound. The guitar reverberates as Hogg’s vocals ring through what sounds like a 1970s ribbon microphone. The keys are crisp, and the horn section freshens up High Water. “You and I” and “Motherstorm” also keep it fresh, slowing down the album with rich acoustic picking. Hogg’s vocals range from angry growls to sorrowful groans. “Motherstorm’s” emotional slide matches the vocals. Bluegrass legend Alison Krauss adds background vocals and fiddle on “Lost Boy,” co-written by Robinson and Ford. The care that went into “Lost Boy” is obvious, and as it unwinds, it inspires the listener to resiliently chase their dreams. The chorus is masterful, and the simple acoustic solo is rife with emotion.
The grungy bass and drums buzz, as do the vocals on “Life is a Landslide.” The lyrics are full of imagery, and steel drums chime about under a subdued guitar solo. If the vocals weren’t dead, It could be the next alt-rock anthem. The album ends with two powerhouse songs that are funky, bluesy, and heavy. “Doesn’t Really Matter” quickly shifts from dirty blues to airy drums and guitar that scamper through space. The instruments unify slowly, and Slocum hits the “organ” setting on his keys, again offering a refreshing sound. The last song on High Water II is the epic “Where is this Place?” In conjunction with the title, the instrumentation and vocals are a journey through psychedelic and alt rock. It starts with simple acoustic guitar delta blues that slowly transforms as the drums, bass, and electric guitar make slow entrances. Passionate vocals come in, and the background vocals resemble a gospel choir. The middle section is a jam with freestyle vocals and blistering guitar. The song and album end with a sprinkle of keys.
High Water II is the second half of the musical saga written by Rich Robinson of the Black Crowes. His new band, The Magpie Salute has toured with the likes of Gov’t Mule, The Avett Brothers, and Blackberry smoke. Both parts of their first studio project, High Water, should be listened to together, as intended, and the composition shows flashes of their live magic in addition to what they can do in the studio.
The Review: 7/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Sooner or Later
– In Here
– Lost Boy
– Life is a Landslide
– Where is this Place?
The Big Hit
– Life is a Landslide
Review by Spencer Rubin