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Magnolia Memoir at Summer Scene, Santa Monica Place, Saturday August 9th 2014

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Magnolia Memoir

On the card flyer passed around before Magnolia Memoir’s performance at Santa Monica Place, their music was described as ‘Florence and the Machines meets Sam Smith’ or ‘Fiona Apple meets the Killers with a dash of The Clash’ and I also read ‘Adele meets The Black Keys’ later on their website… wow, this was just too many opposite musical directions for me to visualize at once, so I decided to just listen to them without any of these artists in mind.

Fronted by Mela Lee, a woman with a remarkably sweet and interesting voice, the five-piece band had right away a very dynamic presence on stage. Lee’s vocals were alternatively honeyed and powerful, exhaling a warm and youthful exuberance and amazingly mixing fragility and strength at once. Sure, I could hear the improbable Adele and Fiona Apple side-by-side comparisons, as her power-house voice had so much range and nuances and translated lots of emotion, while their music was a breezy and catchy blend of pop, R&B, jazz, sometimes going more atmospheric, with a more somber and mysterious feel, but overall an upbeat feeling was running all over their music.

‘This is our story’, said Mela at the beginning of the show, and she explained later her tragic and miraculous story as, just a few months ago, she was involved in a horrific traffic accident – a driver ran a red light, crashed into Mela’s car and broke her back… ‘I am walking and dancing again’, she said, ‘we are in the middle of miracles’. And this could explain the title of one of their songs, ‘Resurrected’, the uplifting and inspiring last one of their upcoming album ‘Pale Fire’, whose release has been pushed back from April to September 9th, because of Mela’s awful accident.

Despite the story, Mela was a very engaging frontwoman, singing poignant or heartbreak ballads, playful songs or explosive ones, and may be these all-over-the-place comparisons were due to the fact that their songs were so diverse and eclectic themselves. Some hooky choruses even sounded very familiar although I couldn’t put my finger on the exact influence they were bringing back to mind… it’s true that the more I read about them, the more I read about famous names, from Gwen Stefani to Billie Holiday, from the White Stripes to Tom Waits … wait a minute, my head is spinning and it’s not totally serving well their genre-jumping style, I thought they also had a noir New-York-City-lounge-after-hours style despite the fact they were playing in the middle of the afternoon. The keyboard could get stormy, the drummer was wearing a Bad Seed shirt (always an excellent point for me) and Mela Lee had this Betty Boop cutesiness mixed with an Aretha Frankin/Etta James’ explosiveness, and sorry for more name dropping!

Plenty pictures of the show here

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