CD Review: Magnolia Memoir — “The Perfect Crime”

Magnolia Memoir

 The Perfect Crime (Peak/eOne Music)

By Devon Wendell

For the past two years, the Los Angeles five piece ensemble Magnolia Memoir has attracted a large fan base with captivating live shows in which the group combines traditional jazz with R&B and poetry-fueled alternative rock.

Finally, Magnolia Memoir has released its long awaited major label debut recording: The Perfect Crime.

It’s apparent from the opening numbers “Good Girl” and the title track “The Perfect Crime,” that it was worth the wait. Lead singer Mela Lee’s Billie Holiday-meets-Macy-Gray-in-a-dark-alley styled vocals and introspective lyrics glide atop of band leader Alexander Burke’s vibes and keyboards in a haunting and hypnotic manner.

There are even hints of Gwen Stefani’s Betty Boop like vocal delivery on “Good Girl”, and “My Doorbell” but the sinister arrangements take you away from that overtly pop world.

Magnolia Memoir

Magnolia Memoir also takes on a daring feat by making an album that consists almost completely of ballads. It’s the uniqueness of each band member that makes this a successful experiment. Mela Lee’s mood-establishing lyrics and vocals, Aron Forbes’s spidery guitar fills, the steady bass of Gordon Bash, and the subtle drumming of Matt Lucich, as well as the horn section (John Roberts: trombone, brass arrangements, Jamie Hovorka: trumpet, flugelhorn, and Rich Rossi on tenor and baritone saxes) are what keep The Perfect Crime from becoming redundant.

Although Magnolia Memoir is a L.A. band, the sound on The Perfect Crime is much more reminiscent of an after-hours New York City Band. The title track, “Just Might Do” and “Let It Go” have an early ‘70s Lou Reed/Velvet Underground feel to them.

Mela Lee softly crying out “What we had was so beautiful but we don’t have it anymore” on “Just Let It Go” with Aron Forbes’s drone guitar arpeggios take you to the corner of Avenue B in Lower Manhattan at 4:00am. No images of Sunny Santa Monica here.

The album’s down side is that it feels too somber at times. This is evident on the Radiohead-esque “222,” which offers no hope at all in Lee’s lyrics about lost love and misery. Burke’s evil funhouse keyboard sound effects and vibes, though creative, don’t help lift the mood any.

After digesting the fact that there will be no upbeat tunes here, the highlight of the album is the acoustic version of “The Perfect Crime,” featuring Matthew Santos in a duet with Lee. This is dark enough to make Leonard Cohen sulk in silence for a month. The harmonies produced by the two are brilliant and most importantly, not overproduced. This is a raw sound.

So many bands try for that retro Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Velvet Underground, “Look at me, I’m a poet rocker” sound and it comes off sounding forced, unoriginal, and fake. What Magnolia Memoir achieves on The Perfect Crime is sincerity. This recording is also a slap in the face of those jazz purists who say that nothing new or interesting is being done with traditional jazz today.

The Perfect Crime is blissfully dark, harmonically and lyrically inventive, and honest.

To read more reviews and posts by Devon Wendell click HERE.

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