There’s something for everyone on Magic Music’s first album. Very few debuts in any genre have the sort of quiet confidence that’s clear in this Colorado band’s songwriting. They sound very much like what they are – longtime friends and respected peers in the Americana scene who have come together to write and record some of the most unique traditional music to emerge in recent history. The band first formed in 1969 and enjoyed some popularity they parlayed into performances alongside legendary performers like Cat Stevens and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band among others. Those glimmers of success never erupted into full on fires and, as a result, the band called it quits in 1976. The friendships of the men involved never ended and they continued to meet for reunions where they played for family, friends, and admirers. A new opportunity for the band to record their first album came about in 2011 and over four years were spent assembling the material, recording, refining, and soliciting contributions from talented peers like Little Feat’s Bill Payne and bassist/producer Jimmy Haslip.
They put their best foot forward with the one-two punch of “Bring the Morning Down” and “Bright Sun Bright Rain”. They are highly credible Americana numbers featuring mandolin, acoustic guitar, and flute among other touches, but they are equally melodic and have a surprising pop sensibility that immediately hits listeners. “Mole’s Stumble” is a well written and highly finessed performance without a single sliver of daylight in the playing. This is chemistry and it can’t be taught. The players intuitively respond to each other and nothing sounds unnatural or slapped together for the sake of effect. “Gandy Dancer” has impressive intricacy without ever seeming like some self-indulgent virtuoso trip and further illustrates the last point about how well this six piece plays together. Their understanding of what the songs need apply to their vocal approach as well and this track has a graceful take on the singing.
There’s an assortment of textures working throughout “Carolina Wind” and the storytelling strengths of the song are the crowning touch on its appeal. The vocalists bring such attention to detail that the phrasing dramatizes every line. Nothing that has come before, however, prepares listeners for the excellence of “Eldorado Canyon”. This song is the apogee of their efforts and has a wealth of specific imagery and detail for the audience without ever obscuring the potential for listeners to connect with its experience. The guitar work is particularly good here and contributes much to its overall worth.
“Hayin’” has some interesting musical turns, but it’s as close as the album comes to pure entertainment. It seems a little put on in certain lyrical respects because of how hard it tries to convey a country atmosphere, but it doesn’t prohibit enjoyed the track. “Our Song: Colorado Rockies” is a rich ode from the band to their home state and listeners will be hard pressed to not like this track. Their sincerity comes through with such vivid clarity that it redeems any self-consciousness that might have otherwise been present. Everything about this debut seems honest as a heart attack, often deceptively simple, and full of real love for the forms they excel in performing.
8 out of 10 stars