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MAGNOLIA

Rock Progressivo Italiano • Italy


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Magnolia biography
This Roman band originally formed in the autumn of 1994 as ECLISSIDRA with a nucleus of pianist Donatella Valeri and guitarists Alessandro Di Cori and Bruno Tifi. Within a year they released a 3-track single ''Fiori Di Pioggia'', a self-produced effort that saw the band searching for its own musical identity. At the time their raw and aggressive style proved difficult to classify which led to a lack of opportunities, although they managed to carry on for a time and the line-up was later augmented with the arrival of Simone Papale (bass), Claudio Carpenelli (drums) and female vocalist Chiara Gironi. The band subsequently changed its name to MAGNOLIA but in spite of gaining the notice of Steve Rothery (MARILLION) they decided to call it a day around the turn of the century, ironically at a point when they were on the verge of success.

Among the reasons given for their decision to quit was a lack of ideas, but one significant project they initially had in mind was for a concept album in the best tradition of the seventies. Therefore when the band got back together during the summer of 2010, following a meeting between Di Cori and Carpenelli at a QUEENSRYCHE concert, they decided to start from where they had left off by completing the concept album outlined ten years earlier. The end result is 2012's ''La Zona D'Ombra'' which is loosely based on the story of David Hicks, a young black man who was executed in Texas in 2000 for the murder of an elderly relative.

The story is told in the form of a series of flashbacks and deals with the memories and fears of a death row inmate as he awaits execution. At the core of the album are half-a-dozen songs originally written in 2000, before the band's hiatus, plus a further eight more recent compositions that grew out of the initial idea and develop it by questioning the very subject of capital punishment. Musically speaking, the band has its foot in more than one camp but it largely consists of a blend of Italian symphonic atmospheres, shimmering alt-rock and some prog metal. However the most characteristic element is undoubtedly Gironi's warm and sensuous voice.

There's a well-known saying in Italian about someone still having milk in their mouth, essentially the same as being wet behind the ears in English. MAGNOLIA have been around in one form or another for the past sixteen years so there's no question of them being naive or their music being undercooked, in spite of ''La Zona D'Ombra'' being ...
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3.81 | 47 ratings
La Zona D'Ombra
2012

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MAGNOLIA Reviews


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 La Zona D'Ombra by MAGNOLIA album cover Studio Album, 2012
3.81 | 47 ratings

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La Zona D'Ombra
Magnolia Rock Progressivo Italiano

Review by andrea
Prog Reviewer

4 stars Magnolia began life in Rome in 1994 under the name Eclissidra on the initiative of Alessandro Di Cori, Donatella Valeri and Bruno Tifi. After many troubles, some line up changes and a long hiatus, in 2012 they released a full length début album, "La zona d'ombra", on the independent label Lizard Records. The current line up features Chiara Gironi (vocals), Donatella Valeri (piano, keyboards), Simone Papale (bass), Claudio Carpenelli (drums, backing vocals), Bruno Tifi (guitars, backing vocals) and Alessandro Di Cori (guitars, bass, synthesizers, backing vocals). Their main sources of inspiration range from Pink Floyd to Anathema, from Italian melody to Porcupine Tree, from The Gathering to classical music and many more but the overall sound is not too derivative and the final result is rather good.

"La Zona d'ombra" (The shadow zone) is a committed concept album freely based on the story of David Hicks, a man sentenced to death who was executed in Texas on January 20, 2000. David Hicks was a black man who was charged for the murder of a relative, an old woman. According to the band, it doesn't matter if he was guilty or not, the aim of this work is just to describe the shadow zone between innocence and evil that everyone could enter when doubts and suspects begin to whirl around. The opener title track evokes a winter night in a hot city, the mood is melancholic and tense. There's a man who can't sleep, he's driving his car along the streets and when a murder is committed he's in the wrong place at the wrong moment... "A woman dies alone / And you are there, where it happens / The certainty that you have a bill to pay takes shape / A woman dies alone / And there's a nigger in the street... And as your life is at stake / The governor opens his game...".

"Road To Hell I" is a short instrumental with piano and organ in the forefront that describes the beginning of the nightmare. It leads to the vibrant "Non ho" (I haven't got) which raises questions about the importance of money, power and media and their influence on the legal system... "They say that what you've got is not what you are / But have they ever experienced what does it mean to own nothing at all? / The truth is that you are the shadow zone of the country / They will never forgive you to be born to remember them that they can be wrong... The real goal of the power is making you silent...". If your skin is not of the right colour, if you have no money to pay the right lawyers, if media are not on your side and if you do not belong to the right party, do you really think that you will ever have a right trial?

"Lì fuori" (Out there) describes the feelings of an inmate inside his cell who is waiting for the his meeting with the Grim Reaper, the black mother that will eventually take him to hell. He's longing for a piece of horizon... "I was an ordinary man before God closed His eyes / I was just man like others before I became the city monster...". The following "Home" begins with a ringing bell and a dreamy piano passage. The music conjures up sweet memories from the inmate's family life. There's a house and a garden, there are crowded streets full of tired travellers... What happened? What is left of all his broken dreams?

"Road To Hell II" is a short instrumental track based on a nice guitar arpeggio that leads to "Lettere di Annie" (Letters from Annie), a beautiful bitter-sweet track describing what the inmate feels when he reads the letters he receives from a woman who still believes in him and seems still convinced that he will be released, sooner or later... "Annie keeps on writing on every Monday / She perfectly knows I will never come out from here / Annie, who tells me to never give up / But night after night she will have to ask herself / Whether it was good or not to be waiting for me...".

"Piccola ala" (Little wing) describes the unhappy, difficult childhood of the inmate. His mother is ill, he does not go to school and social services can't help him. As a boxer, the little child has to grow up and learn how to beat up his merciless destiny. Next comes the heartfelt "La gabbia" (The cage) that describes the difficult relationship between the inmate and his violent father. Bad memories, long hours passed hidden in the basement, a growing hate... "You, who wished nothing but to be a perfect son of God... The body, the tears and then you can't come back...".

"Nel mio nome" (In my name) is built on a beautiful piano pattern and is a short reflection about justice. Every life is worth to be lived, there's no man who has the right to sentence another man to death. Nonetheless the jury will stand up while the condemned defendant will fall down suffocated by a hazy truth. The following "Ellis One" features a dark atmosphere where rage and regret are blurred while the lyrics evoke images of inmates treated as animals waiting for the slaughter. Is all this necessary in a country that boasts its civil rights?

"Corridoi" (Corridors) conjures up the image of a dead man walking in the corridors of a jail. He's on his way to the execution room but it's not time yet. They bring him back to his cell, he has still to wait for the final act... "Now you know it / You were already in the corridors / You were in the list, you will get used to it / Maybe you will have time to get used to it...".

The pulsing instrumental "Road To Hell III" leads to the conclusive "Black Out" that describes the execution. There's people observing the scene behind a glass, faces that freeze into the veins of the condemned man and melt. A sensation of cold comes down, it's the final curtain... "By bye... Blackout...".

"The Deuteronomy book of the Bible commands, Justice, justice shall you pursue. When asked why the word justice is repeated, one ancient commentator replied that there are two aspects of justice: the end of convicting only the guilty, and the means that requires that in the interest of rarely convicting the innocent, we sometimes acquit the guilty. It is not long before the young lawyer realizes that no one really wants justice. Everyone wants to win. The façade behind which the desire to win is hidden is called justice" (Alan Dershowitz, from the book Letters to a Young Lawyer).

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 La Zona D'Ombra by MAGNOLIA album cover Studio Album, 2012
3.81 | 47 ratings

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La Zona D'Ombra
Magnolia Rock Progressivo Italiano

Review by Aussie-Byrd-Brother
Special Collaborator Rock Progressivo Italiano Team

4 stars I remember upon receiving the debut work by Magnolia thinking what a rather ominous and mysterious front cover it had, and even after playing it once all the way through, I was a little bummed at what downbeat and fairly gloomy music it was. At that stage I hadn't even looked through the lavish CD booklet, this opinion came from merely listening to the album and knowing nothing about it. If I'd known it was a concept album based around prisoners waiting on Death Row and the first execution in the US of this new century, I would have been more prepared for what I discovered. Chris' review and band bio on the Prog Archives does a great job going into better detail about the concept of this unhappy album, and my review won't be able to match the observations he has put into his effort. I just hope to bring a little more deserved exposure to a debut work that this talented Italian band have put so much effort into.

`La Zona D'Ombra' is the sort of album that would be perfectly accessible to mainstream rock audiences, especially those who enjoy the later David Gilmour led Pink Floyd albums, mainly due to the grand guitar work from band members Bruno Tifi and Alessandro Di Cori, as well as fans of the melodic female fronted modern bands such as Karnataka, Magenta, The Reasoning and the most recent Mostly Autumn albums. It's comprised of slow to mid-tempo serious adult rock music sung in Italian, with occasional harder elements to bring a bit of grit and edge to the material. Many of the pieces follow typical verse/chorus structures, with very little in the way of bloated showboating soloing or overlong drawn out excesses that serve no purpose. The band choose their moments to stretch out carefully, and always for the best emotional impact.

Magnolia offer a more modern and contemporary take on the defining classically influenced RPI bands, but the element that comes closest is Chiara Gironi's voice. Plenty of times it adopts an unhinged, wild and angry quality that flirts very closely to the traditional Italian bands, and it's this quality that makes her stand out from the current crop of female front-women. Keyboard player Donatella Valeri steals the spotlight in `Piccola Ala' and `La Gabbia' with some heavenly glistening piano playing that might even bring you to tears. Her sparse synths are also a lesson in tasteful and delicate emotion. Claudio Capenell's drumming is deceptively complex, and Simone Papale's bass offers plenty of solid grounding and masterful restraint.

Acoustic sections like the one that opens the album with the title track and throughout are sad, reflective and thoughtful. Chiara sings like a woman possessed on `Non Ho', `Li' Fuori' amongst a tornado of stormy Hammond organ and wild ragged electric guitar fury. The moving multi-sectioned `Home' has one of the most captivating vocal melodies of the album, `Lettere Di Annie' is sprightly adult-pop, `Nel Mio Nome' a downbeat and somber ballad. `Ellis One' is a chilling dark shadowy rocker, `Corridoi' a ghostly stream-of-consciousness spoken word piece, and `Black Out' a touching finale.

The three `Road To Hell' instrumentals are true highlights of the album. The first has a delicate haunting piano melody, restrained humming bass and a winding emotionally draining electric guitar solo, the musicians building the tension levels as the piece progresses. Part Two is a heart- breaking acoustic guitar and gentle synth piece full of longing, while the third movement is a frantic hard-rocking and heart-racing finale. You'll also find ambient effects, sound collages and news report snippets that progress the story throughout the entire album as well.

I do feel there's too many tracks, with one or two bordering on being a little bland, and Chiara's vocals are occasionally a little flat and shrill in just a few moments, but there's no denying this is a very sophisticated, mature and grand release by some hard-working and determined musicians with a story to tell that they are highly passionate about. It's not always a happy listen, and it ends very abruptly on a rather cold note, but those who crave some substance and appreciate carefully thought out serious music will be rewarded by a complex and exquisitely performed work.

Four stars.

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 La Zona D'Ombra by MAGNOLIA album cover Studio Album, 2012
3.81 | 47 ratings

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La Zona D'Ombra
Magnolia Rock Progressivo Italiano

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

4 stars Those expecting Italian prog bands to all sound like the 1970s Rock Progressivo Italiano greats like PFM, Banco or Le Orme may find Magnolia's debut album disorienting, since it doesn't really draw that much on that tradition - rather, it presents a mashup of acoustic indie rock and progressive passages that draw a lot on Pink Floyd. Chiara Gironi's vocal performance is worthy of note, reminding me at times of Magenta's Christina, whilst the band as a whole manage to accomplish a big, rich, vibrant sound which kept me onboard to the end of the album. A very credible debut from a band who've apparently been working towards this for some sixteen years - let's hope we don't have to wait that long for a followup.

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 La Zona D'Ombra by MAGNOLIA album cover Studio Album, 2012
3.81 | 47 ratings

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La Zona D'Ombra
Magnolia Rock Progressivo Italiano

Review by seventhsojourn
Special Collaborator RPI

5 stars In the past I always thought the decision taken by some Italian artists to sing in English was a bit misguided until I discovered that when speaking in Italian it's actually considered hip to drop in some English words. Italian advertising slogans are commonly in English while news reports are often read in both languages. The Italian word for this preoccupation is 'esterofilia' - a passion for all things foreign. However, while the Italian model of modernity has strong American influences, capital punishment is one institution that Italy doesn't support, although the subject does form the inspiration for Magnolia's first full release.

Magnolia have been around since the mid-nineties and following a ten-year hiatus they're back with a bang in the form of the thought-provoking 'La Zona d'Ombra', a concept album inspired by the story of convicted murderer David Hicks. Hicks, a young black man from Texas who was found guilty of murdering his grandmother in 1988, had the dubious distinction of being one of the first men executed in the US in the new century. He was also among the first to be convicted on the strength of DNA tests, with his conviction sparking a series of articles in science journals on the use of genetic material as courtroom evidence.

'La Zona d'Ombra' loosely translates as the 'shadow zone' or 'grey area' and Magnolia aren't so much concerned with the Hicks case itself as with trying to look into the heart of an inmate on death row - to penetrate the innermost thoughts and fears of an individual whose biggest mistake was perhaps to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. The title-track introduces crucial issues like racism ('A lone woman dies and there's a black on the streets') as well as political considerations around capital punishment ('the Governor gives his speech to a packed crowd').

The story is told through a series of flashbacks and memories that influence the music, with the prevailing feel being moody and atmospheric. The haunting three-part instrumental 'Road To Hell' punctuates the album and provides a suitable metaphor for the fog of uncertainty of years spent by the inmate on death row awaiting execution, until the climactic final part disintegrates into a withering blast of metal rage that carries with it a lung-boiling guitar solo as he finally cracks up. 'Non Ho' is the album's angriest song though, a polemic on the unequal application of the death penalty for those of modest social standing: 'I don't have a bank account... I don't have the colour that matters.'

The inmate's nocturnal meditations during the acoustic jangle of 'Li Fuori' highlight the importance of ordinary things - skyscrapers, the horizon, the sunrise - to someone hemmed in, not only by prison bars but by a life spent on the edge. The manner in which the death penalty operates within the class system is a theme that is reprised in 'Lettere Di Annie' - 'Annie still believes in a justice system that isn't made for the likes of us' - although the song is really about not abandoning hope.

The profoundly melancholic 'Piccola Ala' seems to hold a mirror to the Nazi government of Germany that used lethal injection to destroy life it deemed to be life unworthy of life - 'don't give credit to the people who say you're worthless' - but the angelic beauty of Chiara Girona's voice soars above the grey meanness of subject matter like the inmate's initiation at the Ellis Unit One death row, his death march along the paths of 'Corridoi' and the fizzling out of his life in 'Black Out'.

While Magnolia seem to have inherited the Italian interest for all things American they thankfully sing in their own language, but the statements they make with their music are strong enough in any case. 'La Zona d'Ombra' is nothing less than and nothing else than a classic of modern Italian prog rock.

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Thanks to seventhsojourn for the artist addition.

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