The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion appeared in full explosion of grunge and alternative music at the beginning of the 90s, those behind it couldn’t have been farther out of sync with those bands, even if they shared a certain rejection of the pompous metal hair of the previous decade. And while the first bands cited the Pixies, Sonic Youth, and Hüsker Dü as influences, the Robinson brothers stuck with the Stones, in the Mick Taylor days, the Faces with Rod Stewart, and Paul Kossoff’s Free.
They had just recorded a debut album that would make them stars and married them to classic rock of the 70s. As a sequel the band underwent an important change, the original lead guitarist Jeff Cease was replaced by Marc Ford, who came from the blues/rock band Burning Tree. His interaction with the other guitarist and main composer of the band, Rich Robinson would build a new sound for the band, turning them into a new version of the great guitar duos in the history of rock, such as Keith Richards and Mick Taylor, Angus and Malcolm Young, Duane Allman and Dicky Betts, or more recently, Slash and Izzy Stradlin. Rich was still using his signature tuning in open G (the same one, they say, Keith Richards stole off Ry Cooder) and used it to compose most of his songs, with his typical chord progression. His Gibson 335 gives impulse to the magnificent opening with Sting Me, although he uses others too like a Gretsch White Falcon for the same and a slide for Morning Song. Despite being seen as a guitarist who, as a composer, just thinks in riffs and chords, he lets rip on a lovely solo on Hotel Illness and takes turns on another with Ford on Black Moon Creeping. Of course, he outdoes himself with his Fender Stratocaster on the Remedy solo, or on No Speak No Slave, and his Les Paul hooks up with Duane on Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye. But the band is much more than its guitarists, the most important thing being the songs. And it wasn’t a bad idea either to count on one of the singers with the most personality in recent years, with a deep southern accent, highlighted by the wonderful gospel background choirs, or a contagious love for the most classic rock. But there are also other bits on this record, it’s more musical and varied than their tasty debut, and one one of the songs that is often ignored is the tribute Rich pays to one of his heroes, Nick Drake, on the intro to Thorn in My Pride.
Still, you cannot deny the obvious; The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion is dearth of originality. The Robinson brothers’ band did not invent the wheel, they were basically, a group that thought like Homer Simpson, “rock reached its peak in 1974, it’s a scientific fact”. For them, there wasn’t any other music after that, they sounded, dressed, and performed like the Stones on Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street. And even then, I can’t find a single reason why the record isn’t owed an appearance on any list of best albums of the 90s. That’s how good it is. If there are critics who are able to praise any group that sounds like a bad copy of Joy Division, let the rest of us enjoy the best Stones record after the Stones Some Girls.