Magic Music – Self Titled
This is an ambitious debut. Colorado based Americana six piece Magic Music could have released a ten song collection and easily contended for one of the best debuts of the year in that genre. Instead, Magic Music swings for the grand slam shot and authoritatively connects. The seventeen songs on their first release are rarely happy with pursuing one line of inquiry. Instead, there are innumerable shadings and layers in the album’s best songs and even its nominally throwaway numbers have musical and melodic substance. The production presents the music, vocals, and songwriting alike in an ideal light. The album sports a number of important guest stars like violinist Scarlet Rivera, Little Feat vocalist Bill Payne, and Jimmy Haslip. They enrich what is already a superb entertainment experience with the extra bonus of being a virtual master class in how to write and play this music.
It’s obvious that they have aspirations on even the first song. “Bring Down the Morning” focuses an impressive amount of lyrical and musical artistry into one relatively short song and manages to make it a complete listening experience. The production handles the work of producing Magic Music’s vocals with sensitivity and frames the voices up front and center in the mix. They turn up the musical attack on the second cut “Bright Sun Bright Rain” while holding onto the same poetic intensity that lights up the opener from within. The fierce musical attack is never rough hewn, but it has unusual passion and physicality that will win over many listeners. Melodies are so strong in “The Porcupine Flats Shuffle” that the song, despite its retro mold, has a strongly commercial quality. It’s hook filled and moves the listener in subtle ways. The playing is a high point on the album as the players lock in tightly with one another while still playing in a relaxed and nuanced fashion.
“Gandy Dancer” maintains a much straighter line than many of the other songs on the debut, but that doesn’t mean it’s dull in comparison. It shows the band’s ability to focus and forego much in the way of added instrumental pizzazz. Instead, the song places its attention on giving the lyric and vocals a highly musical framework for communicating with the band’s audience. “Carolina Wind” is a much more varied and dramatic number, but Magic Music handle any challenges they set for themselves with easy-going command of the music. “A Cossack’s Song” has a steadily mounting sense of musical drama that rides out on a sustained and rousing climax. The vocal delivery is a little different here than other songs, but still familiar somehow. Another exceptional instrumental track, “Old Man Das”, counts among the major works included on the release. The same hallmarks of melodic excellence listeners encounter in the best lyrical-driven works are equally present in the album’s instrumentals and this is the band’s finest moment in that area.
The closing track “The Cosmic Jingle” is a great finish. The fiddle has a patiently developing elegiac quality, slightly mournful, and interacts well with the supporting instrumentation. The lyric is delivered quite earnestly and avoids too much sentimentality, but the best part comes with the harmony sections. Magic Music is a powerful and fully realized work of traditional music filtered through a modern sensibility.
9 out of 10 stars
William Elgin III