Review: Independence 76, Magpie Parables
It’s hard to be objective when the first song on Magpie Parables, “Sundance Squares”, opens with all the roots music things that get me worked up: the standard, feel-good chord progression of I-V-vi/IV-I-V; a low, growling voice relieved by clear, high harmonies, a plucky, earnest, resourceful mandolin solo in the background. In other words, I guess I like this album.
I have the chance to calm down with the next few songs, numbers that are more clearly on the rock side of the country-rock equation that characterizes Independence 76. g. Eddison’s vocals dominate these songs, and they’re great for this meeting of genres. He can carry the energy of the songs because his singing is strong, and he wipes out the relative silliness of titles like “Kickapoo Riffraff” with a no-nonsense delivery. Songs like “For Worse, For Better, Whatever” or “Eminent Domain” (both ‘Sides A and B’) are reminiscent of Uncle Tupelo, in vocal delivery, harmonies, diversity of arrangement, and general heaviness. I like that Independence can do nostalgia without it sounding too nostalgic. Know what I mean?
But make no mistake about it, this is a political album, questioning the roots and ultimate meanings of freedom and independence. “Justifiable Homicide”, a song about recent, highly publicized murder cases, has a bit of a Nirvana feel to it, again aided by Eddison’s singing, but also the dreary, descending bassline. I couldn’t help but think of Pearl Jam’s version of “Last Kiss” here too, what with the bleak subject matter contextualized in an arrangement that doesn’t quite match the mood, though there is a greater disjunct in Pearl Jam’s cover than there is here. Even more disconcerting is “The Epic of Pat Tillman and I”, a feel-good country tune that comes across as a resigned shrug of hopelessnesss towards its subject matter.
And just when you think the band wants nothing to do with silly love songs, we get a couple of good breakup tunes in “12 June”, which has a plunky little indie-piano riff backing the uncertain lyrics, and “Mending”. With a nice finishing line to the verses of “Summer saults into fall”, the song of the same title might have benefitted from
The album is a little long. I don’t know if they were going for a double here with 16 tracks and a reverse double album like listing – “Eminent Domain Side B” appears before “Side A” and tracks are listed under Volume 2, then Volume 1. Nevertheless, the songwriting is solid, the subject matter is interesting, and while the arrangements get a little predictable towards the end, there’s enough going on to keep you interested all the way through. “Magpie” finishes it off nicely, with sparser orchestration, strings, a slower tempo, and sentimental subject matter.
The band is accepting donations to download the album in its entirety; be nice and give them a bit of cash; they’ve worked hard on these songs.