(03 November 2012) Magnolia is an Italian progressive rock band that was built on the foundation of the core members' earlier band Eclissidra. Fronted by the stunning Chiara Gironi, Eclissidra released one EP entitled Fiora di Pioggia (SIAE (Italy) ECL001, 1995) and recorded the yet unreleased eleven track album In Questo Momento in 1998. Work on the band's next album began immediately thereafter, although the gap and minor lineup changes led to renaming the group Magnolia. Although generally available throughout Europe today, Magnolia's debut album La Zona d'Ombra (Lizard Records (Italy) CD 0085, 2012) is presently only available in the USA through import sales channels. Read more about Chiara Gironi and the making of the album in our exclusive interview.
Magnolia is comprised today of Chiara Gironi (vocals and backing vocals), Donatella Valeri (piano); Simone Papale (bass); Claudio Carpenelli (drums and backing vocals); Butno Tifi (electric and classical guitars and backing vocals); and Alessandro Di Cori (electric, acoustic, 12-string, lapsteel guitars and ebow, bass, synth, backing vocals).
About La Zona d'Ombra (literally, "The Shaded Area") Chiara told us, "It's a concept album that tries to describe the most important moments in life and the different, sometimes contrasting feelings of a man condemned to death penalty. It's been inspired by David Hicks’ story, a young black man prosecuted for his grandmother's murder in Texas, who was executed on January 6th, 2000." The album's lyrics are in Italian. There are brief radio clips in English.
The fourteen tracks of La Zona D'Ombra run an hour. Three of the tracks are longer than the others with running times of over six and seven minutes respectively, the remainder vary significantly with times between two and almost five minutes. There are consistent themes that run through the entire album making it best to listen through in its entirety from one end to the other.
Eclissidra was formed in the mid-1990s based on the foundation of British progressive sounds and in fact when Chiara responded to their advert for a singer she said they were thinking of Genesis and Pink Floyd. As the artists have evolved Magnolia's music clearly has maintained allusions to UK progressive music. Consequently those that admire the work of Karnataka, Panic Room, Magenta, Mostly Autumn and The Reasoning are certain to be delighted with Magnolia's album. Chiara told us in our interview that she was also profoundly influenced by the work of Kate Bush. Listen to the clarity and intensity of Chiara's vocal work to hear the references.
Magnolia's album is broken into five discrete sections. The extended title track opens with an English radio clip and then introduces the band and the album's themes to the listener. Gentle acoustic guitar and piano-sound synth brings the album to life before harmony vocalise takes hold. Chiara's crystalline lead vocal is introduced along with more powerful synths as the arrangement deepens. The first of the three "Road To Hell" tracks--this one with an English radio blurb and dramatic instrumentals following the album's theme--follows.
Three tracks comprise the next section of the album. Chiara's vocal is especially powerful in metal-tinged rock track "Non ho." "Li Fuori" and "Home" are two similarly styled upbeat melodic rock tracks with brief electric guitar excusions. We were especially fond of the soft introduction on "Home" and production of the stunning lead vocal parts and rich backing harmonies on both of them. The second "Road To Hell" instrumental marks the end of the section with crisp acoustic guitar and keyboard washes that echo themes developed thusfar while navigating the listener to the next part of the album.
Six tracks are included in the second major portion of the album. "Lettre Di Annie" is a soft and melodic track fronted with Chiara's delicate vocal delivery. Glistening electric and slide guitars as well as harmony vocals join the mix in the memorable chorus of the song. The musical theme continues to develop in the album's standout tracks "Piccola Ala" and "La Gabbia." Listen to the dramatic transitions between verse and chorus and pay attention to Chiara's stunning vocal delivery.
The darkest track on the album, "Nel Mio Nome" is a gentle, stark and moody piano-based ballad. "Ellis One" is begins almost equally dark yet is far more instrumental. Chiara's at-times electronically texturized vocals are brooding. We were pleased that "Ellis One" warmed up in its final passage. Almost-spoken echoey vocals dominate "Corridoi" alongside keyboard and electric guitar excursions that contrast with rich progressive rock crescendos and tremendous vocal solos. The final and most powerful instrumental "Road To Hell" track closes the section. Listen for the extraordinarily powerful guitar solo midsong before the gentle and downtempo acoustic guitar and keyboard washed concluding passage.
The album's last track is a gentle acoustic ballad "Black Out." Sung expressively by Chiara, it is performed over acoustic and light electric guitar. Magnolia's debut album La Zona D'Ombre is a superb work and one that we've been anxiously awaiting since the video of "La Gabbia" promoting the project was first shared with us in October 2011 by one of our regular correspondents. Listen to the album this year!