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Magnolia Mountain - Redbird Green

Magnolia Mountain

Redbird Green

(Sleep Cat Records)

It’s no small feat for a band to pull off a balance of artful depth, skill, and un-self-consciousness. It’s even more impressive when we are talking specifically about a band from Cincinnati pulling off genuine country music. Magnolia Mountain does it, proving they’re the real deal. Borrowing from the past and spinning it with refreshing originality, the band has crafted a double album (available as a digital download, compact disc, and 2-LP vinyl) of spirited, refreshingly warm and genuine Americana that dips deep into country waters, treads hilly bluegrass paths, and brushes the back streets of folk traditions.

With a regular lineup of eight but bolstered by a rotating cast of nine extras for this record, Magnolia Mountain is a big band (pedal steel, mandolin, organ, harmony singers) that shows decided restraint and poised power. Led by singer/guitarist Mark Utley—who wrote most of Redbird Green’s 16 tracks, barring just a few like the stripped, meditative, and bluesy cover of Hank Williams’ “Long Gone Lonesome Blues”—the band proffers a brand of country taste with just enough real spirit and rawness tempered by the innate ability to know when to lay back.

Another major strength is Magnolia Mountain’s flawlessl execution of stylistic hairpin turns: Take “Reconsider (Please Don’t Go),” a burner that ably leans on the kind of Stax-style, country-informed, Southern soul that will likely have you swearing it must be a cover from an old 45. Immediately following is the powerful “One Day More (For the Mountains),” which is another original—co-written with West Virginia singer/songwriter/activist Elaine Purkey—that sounds again like an old, dusty record, but this time an old protest ballad. Utley can tell a story, too. The dark themes of rustbelt despair in Redbird Green’s title track sounds like something straight from Springsteen’s The River.

All in all, this is an album that exhibits how great American roots music can be…so long as it isn’t afraid to dig in to all those different roots in the ground. Fans of the Flying Burrito Brothers, the Band, Gillian Welch, and Steve Earle will find plenty to love in Magnolia Mountain.

donny kutzbach

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