Album Review: Maggi, Pierce & E.J., Silver
Thanks to smart web radio site Pandora.com, I've discovered an intriguing and incredibly good band: Maggi, Pierce & E.J. Steve Huey at Allmusic sums them up as "hugely eclectic folk-rockers", which is pretty near the mark. The band themselves suggest "Abba meets Zappa", "Fleetwood Mac meets the Pixies", "Ween meets Joni Mitchell", "Bette Midler meets Wilco" and "Sonic Youth meets the Beatles".
The trio is based in Philadelphia and has issued eight self-published albums since 1995. They still don't have a record deal, which, judging from the songs I've heard so far, must be intentional. The release I'm listening to now is their 2005 triple album, Silver, and I don't know where to begin to tell you, Dear Reader, how much it rules.
Maggi, Pierce & E.J. are two men (basso & tenor) and a woman. All of them write songs. In all kinds of styles. And they switch instruments among themselves between songs. And they sing three-part harmony. And much of their lyrics are excellent stand-alone poetry. And they score their own string arrangements. And the three discs of Silver sound like they might be from three different bands! I am, frankly, in awe of their musicianship.
The first disc is titled Morgen, (German for "morning"), and carries six soft folky songs with acoustic guitars, mandolin, piano and the sweetest singing. I'm really taken with the way MP&E harmonise, and particularly by Maggi's reedy soprano on her "Big Falls, WI".
Then you put on the second disc, Mittag (German for "mid-day"), and you're treated to "Kennison", a rousin' & rockin' power pop number about gender-bending. This disc also has the song that turned me on to the band in the first place, "Snowed In With You", which is a really druggy psych song with lots of Hendrixy guitar, but whose lyrics actually speak sweetly about how nice it would be to be snowed-in in a cabin with someone you love. The Nacht (German for "night") disc starts with a bawdy punk rocker with a raucous Maggi yelling about not remembering her bed-fellow's name, and goes on to a metal song about a depressed E.J. staying in bed all day and whacking off!? I haven't listened to all of Silver yet, but I'm sure looking forward to it. Judging from the liner notes, there's jazz and hip-hop there too, and a song with a tuba part.
Even if all I knew about MP&E was the music, I'd be really curious about them. But then there's the image they cultivate and the messages of album covers, liner notes and the web site. Silver has something that looks like a "Parental Advisory" sticker on the cover, but it actually says "Governmental Oppression Despised". Environmental concerns and gender issues keep popping up in their often humorous lyrics. And judging from the materials the band's made available (as a smoke screen?), they seem to live together in a ménage-à-trois household, keeping a dog. Pierce and E.J. look really gay at photo shoots, though there's nothing fey about their music, and Maggi has the heroin-chic looks and emaciated muscularity of a starving model. They're touring all the time, writing songs in Paris, recording in Berlin, posing for silly pics in Glasgow, playing several gigs a week at small venues. In the summer of 2006 they took a two-week walking tour of the 350 km from Philadelphia to Washington D.C., playing spontaneous gigs in the evenings, being covered on video much of the time to make a film, all in a bid for peace.
Maggi, Pierce & E.J. are musical virtuosi. The image I've formed of them is also that of social and political activists: they would fit excellently on a double bill with Roy Zimmerman. Or Fleetwood Mac. Or the Pixies. Or the Beatles. And nobody I know has ever heard of them!
Update same evening: says Maggi, "this review cracked me up! i loved it. as for starving model, you should see me now. i got a big fat belly. see you on the road somewhere....."
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