Performing outside the Reddstone Tavern during a sunny Labor Day weekend, the Magpies reflect the end of summer. Tossing piano, slide guitar, cymbals, accordion, bass and choral harmonies into a street barbeque of originals and covers, the band's bright rock 'n' roll captures a perfect Sunday — cold beers, a warm breeze and a shimmering set of roots-rock and bar-band balladeering.
"There's almost like a punk edge to it live," says Justin Gorski, accordion and piano player for the Cleveland quartet. "I'll play nonsense sometimes. I'll just bang on shit with my fists. We channel that rock 'n' roll energy. This is live. Let's kick some ass."
The Magpies have just returned from a three-week, 14-stop, cross-country tour from Dayton to Denton, Texas, promoting Strangers, their new record of summer-soul music. They call their sound "indiefolkrockrevivalism," and on the new album, that means nimbly navigating roots-infused blues ("Keep Me Away From You"), bombastic barroom bombers ("Bridge") and sweet folk ballads ("Behind These Walls"). It sounds like the Jayhawks playing Jackson Browne covers with Eric Lindell. The man singing is Roger Hoover, guitarist, frontman and founder.
"I'm strictly lyrics and a few chords," says Hoover. "The rest of these guys take it over and turn into that Magpies sound."
"This is a more accurate answer," interjects Doug McKean, the band's bassist (his brother Dave McKean plays drums). "Roger writes the song entirely. And it's a really great, well-arranged demo with harmonies and two or three guitar parts. He plays it for us, and then we do something entirely different with it."
It's a good chemistry, one that some may remember from a band called Roger Hoover & the Whiskeyhounds, which kicked around town from 2001- 2005. The Magpies are a reincarnation of that band, retooled with "great musicians that I could sit down and work on songs with," says Hoover. Strangers is the Magpies' second album. The 12 crisp, blues-tinged, classic-rock tunes were originally written with the Whiskeyhounds, and they're a bit of a departure from the ones on the Magpies' 2008 debut, Eastern Standard Time.
"This album is a lot more like we are live, and we needed to refresh these songs," says Hoover. "We knew we were going out on this tour, so we needed to have something. But we've been really busy working on new material while on the road. We're going to take the rest of the year off and really focus on another album."
The Magpies are hoping to get a new record out by April next year. But for now, fans can enjoy some old classics in a refried rock form on Strangers: "Dead Man's Shoes" goes from folk troubadour to static-filled guitar western; "Kisses for Free" takes old solo acoustic guitar and retrofits it for an American pop band; every track gets similarly reworked with electric guitars, piano and multiple harmonies. The entire record gets smothered in the Magpies' recipe of blues-battered, neo-folk rock 'n' roll. The secret ingredient is the band's energy, which it serves up hot and spicy every night on the road.
"We get pretty excited about what we're doing," says Gorski. "We have fun playing this music. It invigorates me to play the songs again. That shows just in the pure frickin' enjoyment on stage — especially when the crowd wants to join in. Come be apart of that journey."