Magic Music, a six piece Americana outfit based out of Colorado, has a long history despite this release marking their debut studio effort. The band first formed in 1969 and pursued the brass ring of record industry success for seven years before calling it a day in 1976. The members remained involved in music and continued playing together under less formal circumstances, but it wasn’t until 2011 that the band actually scored their first real opportunity to write and record an album. These songs are the product of five years worth of labor, painstakingly curated from a lifetime of experiences and unquestionable talent.
“Bring Down the Morning” sets the album off on a lyrical note. They bring a bevy of instruments to bear on their interpretation of traditional folk music and a strongly theatrical production style that renders each instrument in vivid colors. It has a good pace for an opener and introduces listeners to many of the strengths defining Magic Music’s songwriting. “Bright Sun Bright Rain” is a little more self-consciously modern than the first track. It’s much more streamlined and focused on physicality rather than the mood-invoking first track. Many of the same musical elements return with a forcefulness “Bring Down the Morning” never reached. “The Porcupine Flats Shuffle” and the brief instrumental refrain following it are another of the album’s highpoints. It’s refreshing to hear how fluently the band can translate traditional music motifs and tropes into their own personal language and make it accessible for modern listeners. This is the key to the survival of music like this more than anything else.
The next track is an equally good example of that talent. “Gandy Dancer” has a no-frills arrangement laden with lean and lovely melodies. Magic Music shows immense taste in not packing this album from front to back with their multi-part harmonies and instead sets it up so individual singers often handle the bulk of singing chores from song to song. The positive is that, naturally, when they do serve up those harmonies, the impact will be far greater. That’s definitely so with this song. “The Flatbush Jig” demonstrates their talent for producing quality instrumentals while “Eldorado Canyon”, arguably, represents the peak of the narrative driven songs on the album.
It’s a dramatic dialogue as well between the vocals and instruments. The deeply felt phrasing and elegant weaving of different parts makes “Eldorado Canyon” stick out. “Sundance” is distinguished as well. It is an ascending, life-affirming track with some of the best harmony singing on the entire album and precisely chiseled lyrics appropriate for its subject matter. “A Cossack’s Song” is another track that’s more narrative based and it has some of the same fine dramatic qualities that the album’s best songs have. They take a relatively unexpected approach and the musical changes occurring throughout the song shows off their willingness to challenge the listener a little. “Better Days” has a satisfying sense of familiarity and an almost hymnal quality with across the board resonance. It comes at a perfect time too, late in the album, and helps wind things down in a lightly bluesy fashion.
The debut’s penultimate track “Our Song: Colorado Rockies” is another excellent choice to place near the end of the running order. Magic Music trades in the hymnal qualities of the preceding song in favor of bearing and stateliness. They deliver a passionate but tasteful vocal attesting to their identification with the Colorado area in an affection, but never overly sentimental way. “The Cosmic Jingle” ends things in a manner reminiscent of the earlier “Better Days”. This is a much more lyrically ambitious track, however, and takes a few more musical turns in comparison. Nevertheless, they share some similarities in mood and it is an excellent choice for ending this fine album.