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).
Magnolia: La zona d'ombra (2012). Other opinions:
Chris “Seventhsojourn”: 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... The story is told through a series of flashbacks and memories that influence the music, with the prevailing feel being moody and atmospheric... 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... (read the complete review HERE)