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Non-Prog CD Reviews

The Magpie Salute

High Water II

Review by Gary Hill

When you spin this disc you might feel as if you've climbed into a time machine and wound up in the 1970s. The music here most often feels like it could have been released in that era. That said, it might benefit from the listening habits of the present. Spinning full albums was something that people did in past eras. Today many seem more interested in listening one song at a time. This album benefits from that mindset not because of lack of variety, but rather because there is too much variety. The first half of the album along with the last couple songs seem cohesive. There is a strange stretch of several tunes where it feels like there is a different group doing each song. I remember that criticism of Phish way back when. In this case, it's not that any of these songs are weak. It's just that they don't seem to fit with the rest. That is one criticism I have of this set. The other is that Alison Krause guests on one song and seems sorely underutilized. The backing vocals she provides are mostly unnecessary and seemingly generic. Honestly, though, those two complaints are pretty minor given the quality of songs and performances here.

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Track by Track Review
Sooner Or Later
The riff driven jam that opens this feels a lot like something Led Zeppelin would do. This is a powerhouse rocker that really does have that some kind of hard-edged blues rock sound at its heart. It has some killer hooks, too. There is a melodic dropped back movement that has a real prog rock sensibility to it. It wanders into jam band territory as it continues.
Gimme Something
A bouncy blues rock kind of vibe opens this piece. The cut has a bit more of that jam band feeling to it. It bursts out into a killer jam that is so 1970s that it feels like some long lost tune from that decade. There is quite a bit R&B and soul music in the mix here.
Leave It All Behind
There is perhaps a bit more of a modern alternative rock vibe here in some minor ways. Overall, though, this is another cut that feels like a slice of history. It's an energized rocker with some good hooks and classy instrumental work. The soulful vocals lend a lot of magic, too.
In Here
Another hard rocking tune, this is packed full of class and style. The horns lend some retro style. The whole cut really feels like remnant of older era, though. While I don't think this stands as tall as some of the rest here, that's more about how strong those tunes are than it is related to any weakness of this song.
You And I
While not a standout, this is another tasty slab of retro rocking sound. It has good hooks and some killer jamming.
Mother Storm
Acoustic guitar driven textures bring this into being. The cut has a real Southern rock vibe. While it's more melodic and acoustic dominated, it's not a ballad, but rather a melodic rocker. It has some proggy tendencies, too. I can also hear some hints of early David Bowie at times. This is a highlight of the disc.
A Mirror
This cool rocker is still based in old-school textures, but has a bit more modern vibe, perhaps a bit like Black Crowes. The closing jam, though, feels a lot like The Allman Brothers. It's another strong tune.
Lost Boy
With a guest appearance by Alison Krause providing backing vocals, this cut is very much a country number. The male lead vocals bring a country Tom Petty kind of vibe to them. There is still some rock built into this, along with some folk, but overall the country concepts are the main ones. While this brings some variety, and works pretty well, it's not really my kind of thing.
Turn It Around
This rocker is a real powerhouse. It has a glam rock vibe, feeling a lot like David Bowie. It represents some serious variety.
Life Is A Landslide
Somehow I hear some New York Dolls on this tune. It's another cool rocker, but the set seems to be starting to lose its focus a bit. There is wisdom to variety, but it can be taken too far. There is more of that glam rock element at play to some degree here, too.
Doesn't Really Matter
Now we're back into the kind of stuff the first half of the album got us expecting. This is a smoking hot bluesy hard rocker. It has a bit of a Humble Pie vibe to it. There is some funk in the mix, and this thing really has a great high energy groove and killer sound. The cut works to a slower, almost jazzy groove late. When it comes back into the other zones for an instrumental jam to take the piece out, the guitar soloing is so classy.
Where Is This Place
Bluesy guitar in a mellower vein opens this. The cut grows out from there to a slow blues grind with a real classic sound to it. The jam that ensues has a real 1970s rock vibe and some smoking hot guitar fills all over it. This is a classy tune that really is among the best the disc has to offer. That makes it a great number for the closing position.
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