As an avid rock music fan, I’ve read and experienced a lot of interesting phenomena over the years with bands — some I’ve lived through, some before my time. For instance, The Rolling Stones changing lead guitar players from Brian Jones to Mick Taylor to Ronnie Wood, with all achieving great success. Other examples – The Who moving on without Keith Moon but still writing hits, the short-lived success of Stephen Stills’ “Manassas” only to have its follow-up fall short, the meteoric rise of The Traveling Wilburys, only to disappear after two albums. There’s many more.
One that I feel roots rock fans will look back at inquisitively years from now are the paired studio album releases from The Magpie Salute, “High Water I” and “High Water II.”
As a quick refresher, The Magpie Salute was Rich Robinson’s answer to his brother Chris, who didn’t want to play in The Black Crowes anymore. Rich instead enlisted Crowes guitar weave partner extraordinaire Marc Ford, Crowes bass player Sven Pipien, beloved Crowes keyboardist Eddie Harsch (who passed soon after the band formed), along with John Hogg on vocals, Joe Magistro on drums (he played percussion for the Crowes at one time and was Steve Gorman’s drum tech), rounded out by the great Matt Slocum on keys.
The band toured its first year behind a live album of mostly covers, Crowes classics, and one original song, “Omission.” The follow-up year of 2018 promised a double album of 26 new original songs, based on incredible writing vibes and energy. Sure enough, the 12-song “High Water 1” came out in August 2018, with the 16-track “High Water II” to follow… “soon.”
“Soon” turned into October 2019, more than a year later. Not only that, rumors were persisting of the band’s demise, as they hadn’t played a show since February 2019 (eight months earlier), and there were rumblings of a Black Crowes reunion, or at least a reunion between Rich and his brother Chris, which ended up transpiring in November 2019 with an announcement on Howard Stern, an article in Rolling Stone magazine, and two pop-up club shows in New York and Los Angeles. Basically, “High Water II” got thrown into the sidelines after a buzzworthy “High Water I.” No promotion. No tour support.
That’s what makes it dramatic — that the story of the band took an unexpected turn. What makes it frustrating and even more compelling. though, is that the two albums unequivocally ROCK. The actual song “High Water” is open tuning goodness, with John Hogg quickly developing his own slice of the pie. “Send Me An Omen” and “For The Wind” have huge sounds and catchy verses and choruses. “Sister Moon” was written by Ford and Hogg, showing that they could collaborate, which was exciting. “Color Blind” is great. “Walk On Water” showcases Marc Ford on lead vocals and kills. “Open Up” shows the sound these guys could create together and what was possible.
“High Water II” doesn’t let up, either. “Gimme Something” has a radio friendly chorus. “Leave It All Behind” is relentless fun. “In Here” was the first single and feels like classic latter-day Crowes (a good thing, for me anyway). Marc Ford delivers another MFF country crowd pleaser with “Lost Boy.” The album goes deep and sensitive with “I’m Only Lonely.” Things get bluesy with “Where Is This Place.” I can go on.
It’s incredibly disappointing to consider that this band may be gone for good. I certainly hope not. They had a lot to give and were producing for the fans that were signed up to hear this kind of sound. I’m glad we have what we have, I’m just concerned that it’s going to remain some weird, unheralded asterisk of a one-two punch that faded away way too soon in rock and roll annals. In the meantime, though, I recommend you drop the needle on these two records.
— Jon Siembieda
The Magpie Salute
‘High Water I’ and ‘High Water II’
Released: Both available worldwide