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Magnolia Memoir's New Album 'Pale Fire' Reviewed

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Magnolia Memoir

This summer, I had the chance to see live the cinematic alt-rock group Magnolia Memoir at the upscale outdoor mall, Santa Monica Place, and I was quite impressed by their cinematic, catchy but surely eclectic songs that earned them grandiose comparisons such as ‘Adele meets the Black Keys’, or ‘Sam Smith meets Florence and the Machine’. Actually, they have been compared to so many different musical acts (Spoon, The Black Keys, The White Stripes, Wilco, Glen Hansard, Etta James, Annie Lennox, Eurythmics, Florence +the Machine, Sam Smith, The Clash, The Killers, Etta James, Billie Holiday, Gwen Stefani,…) that it should make any head spin for a few minutes.

Magnolia Memoir is now releasing ‘Pale Fire’, a ten-track brand new album, filled with glorious, stormy, and melancholic songs, just as diverse as I remember them to be, and habited by Mela Lee’s emotional and powerful vocals. The front woman’s voice is as touching as it is youthful, as fragile as it is fierce and the music covers a large range. From the thunderous wide-screen rock of ‘Ash & Bone’, to the delicious sweetness and catchiness of the poppy ‘Odds & Ends’, to the melancholy of the soulful piano ballad ‘No One Like You’ – and that’s the closest to Adele you’ll find Lee, although she is a few octaves above the famous British singer – you will think there’s already a lot to cover in the first three songs, … but the epic ’Hemingway’ arrives and makes Lee almost sound like a more operatic Fiona Apple.

Furthermore, there’s some clear literature inspiration behind the album, beside the obvious ‘Hemingway’ reference, there is a direct nod to Nabokov, as ‘Pale Fire’ is named after the poem by the Russian novelist turned fictional poet John Shade. While the title song burns its own fire, ‘Peeling Paint’ rocks as hard as some vintage 70’ number while keeping a poppy heart, and ‘Resurrected’, the last song of the album, tells the whole story: frontwoman Mela Lee was involved in a terrible car accident in April 2014, the same month as Pale Fire’s original scheduled release. She talked about it during the concert I attended, and after a long recovery during which she had to learn to walk again, she has truly resurrected! Magnolis Memoir is telling us about this life-transforming experience through sad piano ballads, torch sweeping songs, jazzy film noir ambiance and soaring emotional pop-rock numbers, all connected by Lee’s expressive and theatrical delivery

‘Pale Fire is us, said Lee in an interview. ‘It is the perfect musical photograph of who we were and what we were fighting through – band’s gone into debt, the ship’s going down. But out came a sound that we found when we first met, the joy of creating music. It wasn’t to try to make a chart or to make someone happy. And I think we grew up. Not that we were kids. But we found out what we would and wouldn’t change. We found out what mattered to us as artists.’

‘Pale Fire’ is a vibrant album, moving through darkness toward a pale but hopeful light. Listen to it on iTunes.

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