Magic Music’s debut album comes forty years after the band first formed. The talented unit first constituted in 1969 failed to release a studio album during their seven year run and didn’t actually begin recording their first release until recent history. The original driving forces behind the project added more members, some died, and they’ve secured the services of many talented collaborators for this collection, but the band’s unique talent burns bright. Magic Music’s songwriting is deeply rooted in traditional forms, particularly folk songwriting, but there’s a variety of influences audible through the album and unusual instrumentation that makes this first release further stand out. Seventeen song debuts are a rarity; an initial appraisal of the track list might inspire some to think this is an overreach, an unduly bloated affair. A single listen, however, will convince all but harshest critics that Magic Music knew exactly what they wanted when they compiled the final running order and have achieved any goals they set for themselves.
The album opens strongly with “Bring the Morning Down”. This is very pastoral stuff, music with shimmering acoustic surfaces and glowing, finely tuned harmonies, but the lyrics are far removed from colorless reiterations of older songs. Magic Music has a distinctly poetic sensibility in their presentation manifesting itself most clearly in songs like this. The second track “Bright Sun Bright Rain” is richer in dramatics than the first, particularly in how much aggressively flute figures into the arrangement, but the top line melodic instruments like flute, guitar, violin and mandolin have great interplay and some of that is featured here as well. “Moe’s Stumble” lightens the mood some, but the musical virtues are as strong as ever. The onrush of the melody is difficult to forget, but the entertainment highpoint comes here with the vocal harmonies and the humor heard in the lyrics.
“Gandy Dancer” is one of the most obviously commercial tracks included on this album. It has a tremendous amount of propulsion thanks to the changes and muscular tempo, but the singing gives it that additional bit of punch to knock it out of the park for the band’s audience. It once again shows their penchant for writing evocative song lyrics that cull the traditions they work in for inspiration without ever succumbing to imitation. They take things in a starker, simplified musical direction on the atmospheric “Carolina Wind”. It’s a song that, as well, illustrates a key strength of the band – they have different singers to call on depending on the tone of the material. The band builds on the musical spartan, yet suggestive, first half until the song reaches a stirring crescendo. Another upbeat vocal tour de force from the band comes with the song “Sundance”. Like most of the album’s songs, it runs around the four minute mark but doesn’t even seem that long. Instead, it’s brisk pace and lively mood quickly gets over with the listener and only gets more enjoyable from there.
The late track “Country” has low-key, percolating energy and a highly stylized arrangement and vocal. It’s no insult. The work put into arranging these songs was undoubtedly time consuming and they are tightly constructed without ever squeezing the life out of the musical creativity. “Hayin’” is a good example of the comedic element inherent in some of the album’s songs. It’s lighthearted without ever being silly and still sports the same musical substance heard in the album’s more “serious” songs.
Magic Music’s long-awaited chance to make an album has paid off for the band and listeners alike. The reasons for the first are obvious, particularly if you visit their website and read their story in detail, but listeners should rejoice as well. This album will rate high with anyone who enjoys quality Americana touched with a bit of greatness.
9 out of 10 stars