With their second release, Magic Pie take a substantial leap forward in almost every area, while retaining the qualities that made their 2005 release Motions of Desire so appealing. Magic Pie aren’t an overtly ‘tricky’ band who subject us to clouds of pentatonic gnat-notes (to paraphrase F. Zappa), or 25 minute long meandering improvisations. Most of their music relies on fairly simple melodies & chord changes, woven together into longer compositions. What you will hear are soaring vocal harmonies, Hammond organs and piano, a solid rhythm section that never overplays, and one of the finest guitarists around. These guys can play for sure, but first & foremost are the songs.
Which brings us to The Circus…
The bulk of the album is devoted to the five part Circus of Life epic. Weighing in at 40-plus minutes, it truly highlights Magic Pie’s ability to seamlessly combine their influences from classical, gospel, folk, and classic 70’s rock, and still write songs you can sing along to.
pening with “Welcome”, the delicate acoustic guitars & flute set the stage for a journey to “the weirdest place you’ll ever know” – the circus of life itself.
Part two, the instrumental “Freakshow” give the band a chance to stretch out their playing chops over a 70’s sounding riff that probably wouldn’t be out of place on a Deep Purple album, before transitioning into one of the highlights of the entire album.
Part three, the beautifully arranged “What If”, starts out with acoustic guitars & electric piano and advises us to “stay clean, stay healthy, stay alive – have a piece of Magic Pie”, before building to a gospel-like (largely due to the amazing voice of Allan Olsen) crescendo of call & response vocals and ending with the synth bells playing a lullaby. Magic Pie truly has some of the best vocal arrangements I’ve ever heard from a prog band. If you’re not waving your arms around revival-style after this number, check yourself for a pulse!
Part four, Trick of the Mind is divided into four acts: “Song of Decision”, “Song of Anger”, “Song of Sharing”, and “Face to Face”. The four parts lyrically explore how one deals with the rollercoaster of life, and the cause & effect of the decisions made along the way. In keeping with Magic Pie’s positive approach, “Song of Anger” is the shortest – the message is pretty clear that we shouldn’t spend a lot of time here. “Song of Sharing” sounds almost country & western before the band once again stretches out on a heavy riff that features Stenberg’s guitar and Gilbert Marshall’s Hammond. “Face to Face” again features Olsen working his vocal magic.
In part five, “The Clown”, the narrator resolves the story by letting us know that the rollercoaster ride isn’t just a part of life – our life is the rollercoaster ride, and the best way to keep up with the changes is to “stay clean, stay healthy, stay alive – have a piece of Magic Pie”. Allen Olsen singing over a choir brings the epic to a close with a huge D-major chord in their best symphonic-gospel style.
But they’re not finished yet!
The CD also features two additional tracks. “Pointless Masquerade” starts out with acapella vocals reminiscent of Gentle Giant, then works its way through a totally psychedelic instrumental section. This tune is all over the map, but they make it work by bringing it back to the intro. “Watching the Waters” is perhaps the most straightforward tune on the CD in that it doesn’t go off on any serious tangents, but at over 9:00 in length, it ends the album on a loose, funky jam session.
It sounds almost as if the gigging Magic Pie has done since 2005 has given the group confidence to show their oats in their playing & songwriting. It’s a more cohesive album than Motions of Desire, in that the influences are woven into the songs more subtly, rather than jumping from one style to another. Anyone who got into prog during the 70’s through classic rock bands like Kansas, Deep Purple, or Boston should give both of this band’s CDs a listen. They retain the song and vocal-oriented approach of that era, without being a throwback. This is a terrific album!