Magnolia Mountain "Town & Country"
‘Town & Country’ is the third long player in almost as many years from this band of Cincinnati roots rockers led by Singer/Songwriter/Producer Mark Utley, and seeks to raise the bar on previous albums which have garnered favourable comparisons with The Band’s all-encompassing Americana stew.
‘Town & Country’, an 18 track double album no less, attempts to meld the band’s more traditional country, folk and mountain music core with a grittier rock and blues feel, so not only is the line-up extended to an eight piece (not to mention a cast of guests) but the stylistic goal posts have been widened to include any and all styles of classic American music. As wide-eyed bids for musical liberation go its certainly no ‘London Calling’ but the country tunes now sit comfortably alongside spirited stabs at Stax Soul, Soft Rock balladry, Gospel, acoustic laments and swaggering bar-room Blues. Despite the ever-changing styles, ‘Town & Country’ hangs together rather well.
Among the highlights, the ragged ‘Shotgun Divorce’ (a duet of marital disharmony with Lydia Loveless) is good rowdy fun, while conversely 'The Devil We Know’ offers wonderfully portentous ghostly harmony before the band pile in to whip up an evocative Blues-infused drive. The tremulous ‘Bad For Me’ is a slow-burning, almost 80s inspired, pop-rock number while ‘Hard to See’ is Utley at his most tender and direct. The musicianship and arrangements throughout are exemplary, as they traverse their many styles - whether knocking out Bluegrass like ‘The Hand of Man’, or sweat-drenched blues chuggers – but strangely towards the opening and closing there’s a number of tunes that fail to soar, and have an uninspired feel to the writing, and Utley’s fairly ordinary croon can’t save them. That said though there are plenty of solid moments in between to help make up for it.
Clichéd as it is to say, but a few astute slips of the editorial knife would have made a far stronger, more impressive single album without a doubt.