Magic Music’s debut album is a triumphant story about long deferred dreams finally coming true. Since the band first formed in 1969, Magic Music’s mission as artists has, in key respects, been tethered to the idea of self-realization. They’ve overcome the loss of longtime friends and band members, maintained their friendships after initially breaking up in 1976, and came together again augmented by astutely chosen collaborators who match their chemistry. Their debut has too many songs, but they have such uniform quality that it’s easy to forgive them this excess. There’s such uplifting exuberance surrounding this music, even at its most serious in terms of subject matter, that washes over the listener in one comfortable wave after another.
“Bring the Morning Down” is one of the album’s highlights. This lush folk-inspired efforts has a lot of melodic strength and the slick, professional presentation from its production doesn’t make it bloodless but, instead, enhances its virtues. The production qualities remain consistent on “Bright Sun Bright Rain”, but the urgency is dialed up and many listeners will undoubtedly be bowled over by the song’s passion. The flute playing, in particular, leads the way firing off one fiery line after another. “The Porcupine Flats Shuffle” begins life as a deliberately paced folk song before gradually ramping up the tempo. The flute is an important instrument here, as well, but there isn’t a performance among the seventeen on this album that fails to use any musical tools to the exclusion of all others. “Gandy Dancer” and “Carolina Wind” are an extraordinarily duo of songs placed near the heart of the album. The first is much more straightforward than the second song and gradually segues from a cautiously paced first half into a romping second. “Carolina Wind” evolves in a much less predictable fashion and achieves different dramatic effects as a result. The music breathes a little differently here.
“Eldorado Canyon” is a monumental bit of songwriting. Magic Music once more conjures up a very theatrical atmosphere for one of their tracks and it shines a bright spotlight on their talents for telling a story. There are similarities between how Magic Music builds songs like this and how rock bands often approach their material. It slowly rises in intensity, the space between individual notes shrinking more and more, until it finishes with a great flourish. “Sundance” has a great upbeat flourish too. The band’s harmony singing wins the day here though and it is nice how feeling and charisma survive the stylized approach imposed by the production. “Old Man Das” is a layered and jaw-dropping instrumental that somehow manages to synthesize all of their Americana influences into a fleet-footed workout. This music sounds like it simply spills out of the band – this album represents a chance in a lifetime and Magic Music is playing their heart’s out.
“Better Days” is probably the most satisfying song on the last quarter of the album. Listeners familiar with the Americana genre will find a lot here that sounds familiar, but Magic Music pulls it off with extraordinary finesse. Their first album is an one of the year’s best Americana albums and sets a high standard for any future release to reach.
8 out of 10 stars