By Matt Wickstrom
For those already privy to the stylings of Lexington, Kentucky, rockers Magnolia Boulevard, it wasn’t a matter of if they’d eventually break out, but when. With the release of their debut EP New Illusion, it’s safe to say that time is now.
Recorded, produced and mixed at Dragon Crossing Studio by PRS Guitars’ Founder and Owner Paul Reed Smith—whom the band was introduced to during a performance at the 50 year anniversary for the Lexington-based Willcutt Guitars’ shop in May 2018 in which Smith attended—and mastered by Ted Jensen (The Eagles, Green Day, Norah Jones) at Sterling Sound in Nashville, the four-song compilation brings freshly polished interpretations of some of the band’s most recognizable hits to the table as told by vocalist/guitarist Maggie Noelle, guitarist Gregg Erwin, keyboardist Ryan Allen, bassist John Roberts and drummer Todd Copeland. Other artists contributing to the project include Andre “Blues” Webb (percussion), Kevin Walker (bass), Mia Samone (backup vocals) and Leroy “Scooter” Taylor (keyboards).
The effort begins with “Ride,” a song about living in the moment that featuring a revamped intro with a sped-up, reggae infused beat augmented by Erwin’s fuzzed out guitar as Noelle effortlessly howls “What a righteous time to be alive / Right here with one another.” The tune then takes a sharp turn at the chorus, navigating into a realm of arrangements that show the listener in rock’n soul with added keys from “Scooter” Taylor and background vocals from Samone.
The haunting vocals of Noelle are taken to previously unfathomable heights as she channels her inner Stevie Nicks on “Lovin’ Me,” which sees the vocalist rise high enough to easily scale her native Appalachian Mountains as she sings of the power of love “I’ve never tried to feel this way inside / but honey your love it sets me free / and i won’t ever hide as long as we’re alive and you’re lovin’ me”, the emotion in her voice matched only by the guitar wizardry of Erwin, who sings and paints an equally colorful canvas of sound with the licks from his guitar rather than his physical voice. The playing style draw him many comparisons, and rightfully so, to southern rock icon and guitar prodigy Derek Trucks.
While all of Magnolia Boulevard’s individual members are exquisite on their own, they truly shine and thrive when performing together, with each player’s knowledge of one another allowing them to feed and play off one another, elevating their already epic, infectious and empowering grooves to new heights. Thus is the case on “Smooth Sailin,'” which is kicked off by the group’s two most experienced musicians, drummer Todd Copeland and bassist John Roberts, who’s back-and-forth interplay lays down the song’s groove-laden foundation, leaving ample room for Erwin’s driving guitar and Allen’s keys to work into the pocket, rising and falling with Noelle’s commanding vocals while never once taking a dip in intensity.
The song is the most sonically in common on the EP with the Tedeschi Trucks band, one of the group’s biggest influences and company that Magnolia Boulevard is often compared to due to their eclectic palette of rock, blues, funk, soul and jam influences to go with Noelle’s smooth, unwavering vocals, which sound ever more like her hero Susan Tedeschi as she sings “Smooth sailing / Ride the breeze / Sail away silently / To a new place in time / Dying to live and living to die” without ever breaking a sweat.
Capping off New Illusion is “Sister,” an empowering anthem of sisterhood that has become a song of communion for the tribe of witchy women who’ve devoutly followed the band until this point, and undoubtedly those to follow in the days, months and years to come. The tune begins slow, with a subtle twang before Noelle steps in to tell the story of the bond with her close friend, bearing all she she sings “My sister she lives in the hills far away / And my sister my sister she walks her own way / We’ll talk and drink coffee until we’re old and gray / My sister my sister I’m missing you today” before later offering a warning for her would-be suitors, saying “Watch out boy she’s got too much to take / Her heart’s too big and surely won’t break / She’s too strong for you and that’s how she’s been made” before ending on “My sister, my sister your blue eyes won’t fade,” suggesting that no matter the distance and other circumstances that come between them, the steadfast bond of sisterhood will never fade away.
In a time of such uncertainty, Magnolia Boulevard’s immeasurable talent and positive message within New Illusion is one that people from all walks of life can get behind, providing the perfect soundtrack for this not-so-perfect moment in time.
Stream/purchase New Illusion at https://lnk.to/NewIllusion.
Magnolia Boulevard New Illusion track list
- Lovin’ Me
- Smooth Sailin’