Album Review: Michael McArthur – Magnolia

Magnolia – by Michael McArthur
Review by Hannah of www.rockmycommute.com
When I started playing this album on my porch one lazy summer Saturday, I was expecting a good, but run-of-the-mill singer songwriter release with a pleasant name and a few nice songs. Michael’s voice and jazzy style surprised me right away, and while I wasn’t sure I loved the sound – my curiosity was certainly piqued to check out the rest of the album with rapt attention. The title track starts out slow, jazzy; with rhythmic guitar and actually a little R&B style that is fitting for the sexy lyrics like “one taste is all it takes, I’m drunk off of you / your chemicals are kickin’ in”. This song features lots of falsetto, and a chorus that sounds like something by Justin Timberlake – but without all of the flash.

I immediately wanted to know more, so I found Michael’s website www.michaelmcarthurmusic.com to learn about his 2012 debut EP and self-produced 2013 sophomore EP. These garnered him much positive attention, and the support of a top-notch production team for this new release, Magnolia. Meanwhile, I was surprised again by the second track – called “Run Around”- that was so completely different from the first: a slow, strummy song reminiscent of a Jack Johnson tune, in a darker and more minor key.

Enter finger snaps, keyboard, lots of “oooohs” and “na-na-nas” on the intro for “She’s Got It All”. The simple musical structure and semi-cheesy lyrics are quickly forgiven when the catchy beat hits, and you are sucked into the song! This struck me as similar to something by Phil Collins like “Easy Lover” or “Sussudio”. But I still wasn’t hooked until Track #4 – “Clocks”. There’s a real sassy bassline on this one, and great drums. It is jazzy like the first track, but with more grit. This track is almost a dead-ringer for a Maroon 5 song – if you like Adam Levine I think you would definitely like hearing Michael croon “you’re love’s got me spinnin’ like a clock – slow it down!”

I’ve mentioned a lot of other singers to try to give you a feel for what Michael sounds like – but I also want to add that no individual song particularly evokes these additional artists; there is a sprinkling of these blended styles throughout. I heard Michael Franti, Daniel Bedingfield, Gavin DeGraw, and even (somehow) Cat Stevens. Bundle up those musical styles and vocal sounds, and you’ve got the basis for what Michael builds on and makes his own, on this wonderful album.

And yes, by Track #5 (“Lightning Nights”), I considered this a wonderful album. This is a little bit country-ish, with some sliding steel guitar and smooth, mellow harmonies that still somehow fit in with the rest of the songs on Magnolia. Like you’d expect from a country song, the lyrics are simple – “we’ve got some time – let’s make a little love, and make it right” – but this is the song that made me realize that actually I am really enjoying this Michael McArthur guy!

“Truly, Madly, Freely” starts with a slow, rolling, arpeggio-filled opening that is way stripped-down. It has a “raise-your-lighters” or “last-song-of-the-night” style that quickly rolls into a full-on waltzing slow-dance that is full of heart and soul. The next track again is full of sultry rhythm and words, such as “touch like flame – skin like water – get me higher”. I guess this is all fitting for a song called “Desire”! The memorable chorus with great backing vocals will have you singing along – with your hands in the air, and major sway in your step.

The album closes with “She’s Got It All (1984 Remix)”. This is a slightly-corny old-school representation of the earlier song (Track #3) that feels a lot like “All Night Long” by Lionel Ritchie. Clearly this was not produced in 1984, but this version has all of the great 80s beats and sound effects of the best hits you love from that era. It is actually really dance-y and cute, especially on the chorus. I enjoyed this myself, but if this doesn’t style appeal to you I’d worry that you would miss out on the other great songs on this release. I think it is well-placed at the end of the album, so the die-hard listeners can appreciate it – but the more cautious types won’t be discouraged by the sudden 80s party.

The weekend I previewed this album, I was having an overall wonderful time. Lots of sunshine, summer breezes coming in through my porch – and the music from Magnolia just fit right into the relaxed, positive mood of my surroundings. Based on the first two songs, I wasn’t really expecting to love this artist, but the album as a whole really made a great impression. I will definitely keep Michael McArthur at the ready for those days when I really want some groove during my commute.

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