Magnolia Red – Ancient River – Review

Magnolia RedComing from the west coast of Norway but deeply rooted in the culture of Americana rock, Magnolia Red recently released its debut album, Ancient River. Featuring singer-guitarist Frank Bjørdal, guitarist and backing vocalist Roy-Jostein Fiskerstrand, bassist-keyboardist Eyvinn Magnus Solberg, and drummer Ronny Blomvik, its music is contrastingly dynamic, emulating the ebb and flow of crashing waves and fast-moving storms against the staggering rock fjords of the Atlantic.

Magnolia Red – Ancient River

The first song and title track off the album is a classic example of traditional Americana folk storytelling within the context of a song. A song about despair and a river that’s taken peoples’ lives and dreams away yet still flows ever onward, the melancholy lyrics are complemented by a sheer vastness and density of sound as the song builds, mirroring the rushing girth of an ancient river. As with many traditional folk songs, there is irony created between the commiserating lyrics and the forward-driving pulse of the music itself, while using natural imagery to represent the fleeting passing of time.

A more uplifting tune than the title track, “Heart Street” feels like there’s a change coming in the air with its motivational lyrics and reassuring, rock steady shuck-y guitar groove. The blend of electric and acoustic rhythm guitar gives a deeper breadth to the density of the sound, while broad backing vocal and brass harmonies ring out in a climactic expansion at the end. Relaxing yet simultaneously uplifting, “Heart Street” is about finding positive silver linings within the struggles of everyday life.

“Loving Kind” features a funky stunted rhythm in the verse between the instruments and vocals, heavily influenced by psychedelia as the music dives into modal oceans and comes back up the surface for a breath of fresh air. The lyrics in the chorus: “You never know who’s your loving kind,” are all about keeping your mind open because you never know when love is right around the corner or even right in front of you without realizing it. There’s a stop time guitar hook in the verse that is just as catchy as the chorus, demonstrating the spectrum of various colors the band can emit, from blues, to psychedelic and rock n roll.

“Signs That Passed” is one of the harder rock songs on the album, and it contains existentially poetic twists in the lyrics. Giving the listener a reality check with a motivational undercurrent, the song is about how when we’re too focused on speeding through the length of our life and fighting the signs the universe gives us along the way, we end up missing out on the width of our lives and the beauty it has to offer. Magnolia Red gives the listener advice to go see the sights they’ve missed, to go back and change the way the past has carried with you, inspiring the listener to clear up their past so they may have a brighter present and future. A steadfast guitar melody wraps everything up into one cohesive statement.

“Unwind,” caps off the album with pleasant vibes and lyrics confronting the issue of working day in and day out without ever actually moving your life forward (more folk irony for you). A thrilling stop time hook appears in the guitars in the chorus that really brings the listener to attention. The phrase, “Unwind,” is used as a metaphor for removing your mind from the everyday world enough to clarify why you’re doing what you do and what your purpose is moving forward.

Overall the band seems to have a lot of advice on how to live a more present and fulfilling life. Its music accompanies this thought with engaging melodies, positive-feeling vibes, and shoulder-shaking harmonies that ease the listener into relaxing, while also empowering the listener with the drive to pursue more happiness within their own lives. “Ancient River” features songs with tightly woven vocal harmonies and expansive rock arrangements, resembling a balanced middle child between Crosby, Stills & Nash, and Neil Young’s Crazy Horse.

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