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


Salem Hill



3.78 | 83 ratings

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3 stars "Mimi's Magic Moment" was my first exposure to and investment in this group and I've got to give them their due. They are very talented musicians, imaginative songwriters/arrangers and poetic lyricists. They excel in their vocal abilities and harmonies. The drummer and bassist in particular are superb, laying down impressive rhythm tracks in a wide variety of time signatures and the majority of the keyboard work is of the highest quality. However, they do have a few peccadilloes that irritate me. The synthesizers sound like the obsolete, reedy ARP models from the 70s and the electric guitar sounds like it is being processed through a cheap 60s fuzz tone effect of some ancient sort. These may not bother the average prog lover very much but to me these two distractions take away from what otherwise is a pretty good album. (I just had to get that out of the way up front so I wouldn't spend the entire review pointing out their cheesy timbres.)

"The Joy Gem" starts things off well. One thing these guys understand completely is the importance of melody so right off the bat you're introduced to the song's main theme. The vocals are strong throughout the album but here guest Neal Morse adds a whole 'nother dimension with his charismatic singing style. Mix in another gifted guest artist, violinist David Ragsdale, and you have all the necessary ingredients for some fine symphonic prog and the tune doesn't disappoint. The gem in question is spiritual enlightenment and the words convey the fact that if mankind covets and hordes it rather than sharing it then there's "no change in the hearts of men." Salem Hill's style is to inject instrumental interludes every so often and the first one here features dynamic accents and drum fills as well as a stirring violin solo. They then tastefully drop down to just the piano before the vocals resume. Drummer Kevin Thomas' vibe performance provides a nice touch and the change to a minor key at the end is very effective, as well.

"All Fall Down" utilizes the old synthesizer sound I spoke of earlier on the intro before three part harmonies reminiscent of the Hollies are layered over an acoustic guitar-driven, folk-styled chord progression. Guitarist Michael Dearing's lyrics are brutally honest about the false trappings of stardom. "Put on a show of illusion/spectacular artifice, a clever disguise/fly on the wings of ambition/and try not to be everything you despise" the singer warns. While the verse/chorus is just okay, the stirring gypsy-like instrumental segment in the middle where guest Jeff Eacho's exemplary flute ride soars really delivers the much-needed punch. The rhythmic, underlying piano adds spice to the track and even the weak lead guitar can't hold it down for more than a few seconds.

The best and longest song on the album comes next, the magnificent "Stolen by Ghosts." Ragsdale's somber violin segues into piano with lone vocal to set the beautiful mood as the tune's sad melody is introduced. Let me tell you, Carl Groves is an exceptional singer and his emotion-packed performance throughout this epic cut will stay with you forever and that's no exaggeration. The lyrics poignantly convey the intense, gut-wrenching internal pain of personal loss as well as I've ever heard. The loss could be from a tragic death or from the breakup of a close relationship and if you've been there you know of what he writes. "What is left for me now?/you've taken away all that I loved most/my soul has been stolen by ghosts/all these years have passed me by/all that time, where did it fly?/all that's left are memories/and wondering what might have been." The second instrumental section in this intricate tune features a heated three-way duel between the synth, guitar and violin and Ragsdale wins by a country mile. He bristles with energy and fire. Groves' voice completely steals the show, however, when he goes a cappella with the main theme and makes your hair stand on end as he strains almost to the breaking point with honest, passionate grief. Talk about a WOW moment! The band crashes back and a violin-fueled march takes you to a brief fade-out before a totally different tag drifts in. A dirge-like atmosphere surrounds Carl's electronically altered voice as he sings solemnly yet still very forcefully about "In a soul that is barren there's a sparkle of light" and that one must "hold on" because "at the end of the journey you regain control." This emotionally charged composition is worth the cost of the CD by itself, friends.

An infectious, tricky up-tempo riff joining guitar and mallets together brings on the last tune, "The Future Me." When Thomas' drums jump in the song really takes off despite the distracting buzzing of the electric guitar and synthesizer playing the tune's melody line. Bassist Patrick Henry gets a chance to show off his extensive fretboard skills before you are treated to a brilliant acoustic guitar and piano duet. Then another guest artist, Fred Schendel, literally tears it up on the piano before the vocal arrives. Again a meaningful subject matter is tackled as Groves sings about the quagmire of religious dogma and doctrine that can retard genuine spiritual growth. He points out the futility of self-serving "sermons on my neighbors/and how they fail in the end/while there's so much we lack/one more easy attack/one more pat on the back." The song builds steadily to a powerful ending where the refreshing voice of guest Alyssa Hendrix adds a dramatic slant to the climax.

I personally prefer a cavernous depth of sound to my symphonic prog but I also realize that many do not share my affection. Salem Hill's production here is very up front, flat and direct in its approach but I won't let that detract from my overall rating. But will someone please save these boys from themselves and equip them with some 21st century synths and guitar effects on their next outing? Nostalgia is one thing but a little goes a very long way, fellas. I feel that if they would have simply employed more up-to-date instrumentation this could have easily been four-stars. As it is I still find it challenging, highly impressionable and definitely worth your while. 3.4 stars.

Chicapah | 3/5 |


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