A definite high water mark…
Released on 10 August 2018 by Provogue Records and reviewed by Gary Cordwell
So here it is, the wait is over. We’ve had the teaser debut album (a recorded live in the studio affair of beloved covers), the none-more-Crowes lead single ‘Send Me An Omen’ (see above), and now the first fully fledged album of all new studio material, High Water I (with vol.2 apparently due some time next year). For Black Crowes fans, this is manna from heaven, the guitar dream team of Rich Robinson and Marc Ford are back (for me they’re right up there with Keef ‘n Mick Taylor, Slash ‘n Izzy – partnerships that breath and rock in uniquely distinctive and joyous ways), along with fellow Crowe Sven Pipen. Breath is baited, fingers are crossed, will it live up to expectation?
Let’s keep you on tenterhooks for the answer while we examine the evidence (Hint: the answer is fuck yes!). We kick off with a classic Crowes gambit, an opening 3 minute ‘oh yeah, we’re back’ blast of unalloyed joy. ‘Mary The Gypsy’ is simple, scruffy and ready to rumble (apologies Mary), a garage band romp with a short, scuzzy solo. The band then proceed to stretch out and really hit their stride.
The overall vibe is definitely Black Crowes, but with an added maturity, still able to kick out the jams but also willing to chill out on the porch with a beer and an acoustic guitar. Country and folk blues abound. The title track has a gorgeous, dusty acoustic intro, recalling the peerless Nick Drake, it’s that good. Electric guitar eases its way in and in grooves in its own supremely confident manner, The Allmans joining the party before it all ends in a sumptuous sleepy sunset jam. ‘For The Wind’ follows in a similar manner. That Crowes mojo is back, in spades, its big glorious chorus and breath taking twin soloing have that thick, full ‘Southern Harmony’ sound.
Marc Ford clearly brings his acoustic influence across from his ‘Holy Ghost’ solo album. ‘Sister Moon’ is a moonlit slice of cosmic Americana while ‘Hand In Hand’ meanwhile, brings a touch of jug band blues. It’s a stomp, a house party after a long day in the field. Taking it all the way back to where it started, it takes years of skill and playing together to sound this natural and loose.
On the more electric side of the tracks, ‘Color Blind’ is swampy and chilled, full of wah wah and a stunning solo wrapped around a tale of racial equality. ‘Walk On Water’, while being 100% Salute, doffs its cap in no uncertain terms to Tom Petty, chock full of jangly guitar, but trust me, this isn’t pilfering – they’re peers, they just use the same tools. ‘Open Up’ is something a bit new. Yes, it has the acoustic intro and the emerging electric guitar, it’s minimalist and kinda badass, almost an outlaw CSN. But it’s also almost a power ballad, but fear not, there’s no cheesiness here.
What there is, is class. Top notch songwriting, world class musicianship. The sound of musicians who have stood side by side all over the world, jammed their way around any curveball you can imagine. The production is organic, holistic and gorgeous. Vocalist John Hogg, although sharing characteristics with Chris Robinson, is in no way a copyist, his voice, while not as showy as Robinson Snr. is warm, soulful and a perfect fit for these songs. It’s a fabulous album, as natural and unforced as anything Rich and Marc have been involved in since ‘Amorica’. Chris must be looking over his shoulder. Welcome back guys, roll on Vol.II
- Mary The Gypsy
- High Water
- Send Me An Omen
- For The Wind
- Sister Moon
- Color Blind
- Take It All
- Walk On Water
- Hand In Hand
- You Found Me
- Can You See
- Open Up