A powerful, rootsy “folk orchestree of epic proportion” (Mike Oberst, The Tillers), Magnolia Mountain embraces and explores That Midwestern Thing in a big-tent-Americana juggernaut that draws from folk, country, bluegrass, blues, rockabilly, and rock. But no matter where they take it, “they have the rare ability to inhabit any branch of Roots music and still sound unmistakably like Magnolia Mountain.” (Brian Baker, CityBeat).
Anchored by an acoustic musical core and gorgeous 2-, 3-, and 4-part close harmony vocals, Magnolia Mountain will appeal to fans of roots music, old and new. Drawing from the deep well of American music, Magnolia Mountain takes different genres, finds the common thread within, and translates them into their own original songs that both pay tribute to the past and carve out their own place in today’s musical landscape.
The band is led by songwriter Mark Utley on vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and banjo. Mark is joined by harmony vocalists Melissa English and Renee Frye, guitarist Jeff Vanover, mandolin/harmonica player Bob Lese, fiddler Kathy Woods, upright bassist Bob Donisi, and drummer Todd Drake. Magnolia Mountain plays regularly around the greater Cincinnati area, performing Mark’s original songs as well as an eclectic selection of covers that range from the Louvin Brothers to Son Volt, from Woody Guthrie to the Flying Burrito Brothers, and from Hank Williams Sr., to the Drive-By Truckers. They are at home in quiet “listening rooms”, rowdy bars, and anywhere in between.
April 20, 2012 is the scheduled release date for Magnolia Mountain’s third album, Town and Country. An 18-song double album, Town and Country is once again produced by John Curley at Ultrasuede, and will again be released on both CD and 2-LP vinyl. The album features 16 new original songs, including “Shotgun Divorce” (a duet with Bloodshot Records artist Lydia Loveless), as well as two covers: “Don’t Leave Just Now” (originally by fellow Cincinnatians Wussy) and “Just to Know What You’ve Been Dreaming” (written by Centro-matic’s Will Johnson).
JT Nero is a strange and distinct songwriter – he lists Mark Twain and Sam Cooke among his biggest influences. He is a poet of the everyday and the absurd, the lonely, the hopeful and the semi-hopeful. He’s got a fractured country soul croon, full of doo-wop ghosts and old time religion.
Whether touring with his muse and frequent collaborator, Allison Russell (Po’ Girl), or backed by the scintillating Chicago rock n’ soul outfit, the Clouds, Nero has emerged as one of the compelling new voices in American music. With the Clouds he’s a rock n’ roll preacher — on his own, he digs deeper into darker, often fantastical nuances of his work.
You might cry in your beer listening to Nero’s Mountains/Forests – which features Russell and members of the Clouds – but you may not know exactly why you’re crying. There’s recognizable lonely hearts — but they float through dreamscapes populated by elephant kings, electric sea horses, sentimental gang bangers and dying honeybees. The instruments are largely of the back porch variety – plugged in axes were traded for acoustics, banjo, accordion – and the album was made in 4 days, in a cabin in Door County, Wisconsin.
There’s not much Allison Russell can’t sing, which is no surprise to many loyal Po’ Girl fans. She’s got a bit of the speakeasy chanteuse in her, a bit of old R&B, but with a delicacy and clarity of phrasing that Ma Carter or Loretta Lynn would surely approve of. She plays banjo, ukulele, guitar, and clarinet. She’s also a top shelf whistler. She writes gorgeous, unpredictable songs, and makes other people’s tunes – often Nero’s – her own with startling ease.
Now performing as Birds of Chicago, Nero and Russell’s gifts dovetail easily. Their harmony singing – not too perfect, not at all saccharine, set against a sparsely plucked backdrop – is a fine thing. They are wrapping up their first proper duo record, aptly titled Birds of Chicago, due mid-2012. In the meantime, they will be, per usual, on the road – you won’t have work too hard to get to a show – they’ll find you.