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Salem Hill - Mimi's Magic Moment CD (album) cover


Salem Hill



3.78 | 84 ratings

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4 stars I have to say that whether you come to embrace this album or not, a few listens should convince you that these guys are all very accomplished musicians. I’ve only heard bits and pieces of some of their previous six albums, but I can say that the difference on this one comes from the addition of some superb guest artists including Neal Morse, Kansas violinist David Ragsdale, Glass Hammer pianist Fred Schendel, and Ajalon guitarist Randy George. Also featured are the angelic voice of Alyssa Hendrix and some very delicate and melodic flute work by Jeff Eacho. The contributions from each of these musicians really raise the level of artistry on this latest offering from the band.

Previous albums like Be and Robbery of Murder are full-length concept albums, while Mimi’s Magic Moment (odd title aside) is a collection of four individual and largely unrelated tales, each telling a complete story with meaningful lyrics and complex, beautiful arrangements. The band’s sound is somewhat more reserved than American counterparts like Kansas, Spock’s Beard, and Cryptic Vision, but in many ways it’s also more developed and complex than much of that music.

“The Joy Gem” tells the tale of a precious gem that has the power to enrich lives and bring happiness to those who accept it as an unconditional gift, but can also cause pain and despair for those who make selfish demands or misuse its transforming properties. Considering the members of the band are all proclaimed Christians, it’s pretty evident the ‘gem’ they are singing about is that of Christian salvation, but the message is somewhat secondary to the gorgeous arrangements and the harmonic vocals of Neal Morse and Carl Groves. The story line is pretty much laid out in the first few minutes of the song, after which the band wanders off for about ten minutes of variations on the basic keyboard arrangement, including Moog, piano, guitar, Ragsdale’s violin, and what might actually be a Mellotron. The rhythm line is pretty straightforward, but provides a steady pace for the keyboard gyrations. The piano tracks are especially poignant, and provide an excellent backdrop to Morse’s voice as he brings the tale of centuries to a close with the passing of the gem-gift from a father to his son, thus completing the foretold prophecy. Sure, it’s a little preachy and pretentious, but not unduly so for this prog-ligious lineup, and anyway it’s a worthwhile tradeoff for the fifteen minutes or so of outstanding progressive music.

“All Fall Down” is both shorter at just over seven minutes, and more conventional in its arrangement. This was written by guitarist Michael Dearing, who had just completed an extensive tour as backing musician for a very prominent American country music star. The message here is a very sarcastic and biting condemnation of the pretentious popular star lifestyle and accompanying false sense of self-importance that many such icons are guilty of –

“Paint me a picture that’s deceiving, something that’s not everything that it seems - a portrait of decadent grandeur that hides the decay of contemptible dreams.

A mask to display all the confident pride, and tries not to show that there’s nothing inside…”

The pleasant piano and melodic vocals can’t hide the loathsome attitude toward those the words are aimed at. Here again the lyrics are laid out up-front, with the latter half of the song reserved for a foray into musical flights. This time the various keyboard arrangement are accentuated with Eacho’s flute and a more aggressive rhythm that slowly rises to a jumbled cacophony of guitar, keyboards, drums, and sonic feedback, finally collapsing back to the melodic chorus of flute, acoustic guitar, and piano as the traveling pop star returns home and is forced to face themselves in the mirror -

“Sing me a song if you can, tell me what soul that you have. The curtain still hides what is left of your pride, ‘till the wind blows you back home again”.

Worlds apart in emotional terms comes “Stolen by Ghosts”, a twenty-one minute long tale in which the singer laments the loss of a loved one, and seems to find symbols of their presence all around. There are actually multiple singers here, as each band member lends a hand at one point or another. Ragsdale returns to provide bits of violin in between vocal passages, which themselves are framed with delicate acoustic guitar. The refrain “what is left for me now, everything stolen by ghosts” is delivered with raw passion, and stays with the listener long after the song ends. This is the most measured track on the album musically, but the overall effect is quite striking and powerful.

Finally the end comes with “The Future Me”, whose theme can most simply be described as – perspective. This is another Christian-tinged lyrical piece, but the message is one of staying focused on what’s really important to all of us, and not getting caught up in the destructive and pointless cycle of dogmatic theology and baseless black-and-white conflicts that lead only to pain and take focus away from what really important (whatever that is for each of us – for the singer it’s the life on the other side, but again, that’s not really the point). Fred Schendel lays out an absolutely potent performance on piano throughout, which at some points reminds me of some of the more moving work Joe Jackson did in the latter 80s. This is just a beautiful arrangement.

Salem Hill have been floating around the American progressive landscape for about fifteen years, and haven’t made much of an impression outside their small but loyal following. I’ve just recently gotten into them, and after listening to some early samples and comparing that to numerous listens to this album, I have to conclude that they seem to have reached a polished pinnacle of their career.

Some albums grab the listener because the music moves them emotionally; others because it causes their adrenaline to rush, either from fear or anger or lust or joy. Others simply touch us because of the context in which we experience them – as backdrops to pivotal points in our lives. This one gets me because of the very important life-concepts it speaks to, and the melodic and artistic way in which it does so. I’ve listened to this album at least thirty times in the months I’ve owned it, and each time I find it more appealing and more accessible. Hopefully you will too. Four stars, and very nearly five.


ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |


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