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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Magic Pie

Circus of Life

Review by Josh Turner

I experienced much of this material live at RoSfest far before I ever heard the disc. While it was masterfully performed there, it is superbly done here. From the alluring intro to the clever finale, this seven-parter (a five-track plus two) shines with an intensity not entirely felt on the first one. While the debut featured four-part harmonies that I sorely miss, this one has many scrumptious layers of guitars. Plus, the compositions are tighter than an engineer’s schematics on a microprocessor or the svelte circumference surrounding a ballerina’s waistline.

Between the electrics and the plugged-in acoustics, the tranquility is established instead in their instrument’s harmonics. As for the singing, I’m not saying it’s anemic. To the contrary, there are harmonies, which are referenced later on in this appraisal. For now, in a nutshell, each lead singer takes his own sweet time and presents his voice mostly by its lonesome self. I have to give them praise for using these atomic talents in bold new ways and making an album that’s unique from their original award-winning recipe. It was risky business, because it was ambitious. Anyhow, it works quite well for the picky patron.

In “retro”-spect, my favorite song is that fantastically-long track entitled, “Trick of the Mind,” however, the entire album clicks as a whole. For that reason, I wouldn’t change it one iota. And when I listen, I begin with the initial note and finish in the secret chamber that only makes itself known after every last bit of calligraphy in the trailing credits is shown. The drawn-out pause is like a cursed chest of priceless coins. While the blight might keep you at bay, the return on investment will make you wait. I would definitely be interested in a third installment. To tell you the truth, I can hardly suppress my anticipation for the next melodious extravaganza they have scheduled. If offered more Magic Pie, there is only one proper response: “Thank you, sirs! May I have another slice?”

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 4 at

Track by Track Review
Circus of Life Pt. I – Welcome
At its commencement, they conduct a survey that bears convivial fruit. This follows many birds of a feather, possibly robins, orioles, or jays. While there is music, the focus is strictly on the customer. The hospitable ushers take your ticket and welcome you into the big top. Even for a grand-opening experience planned with warm-hearted intent, the anthem forms an especially-friendly greeting. With this reception, it’s obvious they are setting up an instant-classic and an epic.
Circus of Life Pt. II – Freakshow
They immediately expand upon their successful franchise. On these burgers, Gilbert Marshall’s keyboards are thick. I’m not sure what’s in the sauce, but it’s progressive and I like it. What’s unusual is that Lars Petter Holstad’s bass, Kim Stenberg’s guitar, and Jan Torkild Johannessen’s drums add a curious side of grits. They serve every course and round it out with a milkshake. When one would think you’d have to go back to the debut to get a proper happy meal, they provide twice as many toys inside their artsy sixties-inspired container.
Circus of Life Pt. III – What if...
Within this rhetoric, they continue to branch out. This time they pump white noise into the shared space of the cafeteria. Due to the lack of calamity, this refectory is peaceful. Besides the calm sounds, each bite of their juicy jingle will beckon you to buy more sparkling items. With such light options on the back-lit menu-based-banner overhead, there is room for cake or more appropriately, fried apple pie. Also, we get limited choices that can still be ordered later on in the reprisal as well as a whipped layer of creamy hand-picked notes from Stenberg’s guitar.
Circus of Life Pt. IV – Trick of the Mind
At first, it seems that the next target market would be the boroughs of the Violet District. Before the kids are allowed into the recreational area, they are sent back to Motions of Desire. With this, it looks as if the groundbreaking building is still under construction for another season. As a “Band”-Aid, it seems that the answer lies in temporarily parking the tikes in the daycare of its predecessor. Then just like that this suitable solution proves to be premature. They christen this vessel of sand, concrete, and dirt with mirth. It’s better than Dick & Mac’s McDonalds, Jackson’s Neverland, and Pee Wee Herman’s Playhouse combined. Here we are blessed with so much commotion around the monkey bars and slides; it isn’t very long before someone gets marred. The anger and embarrassment prompts fisticuffs which in turn causes fragile bodies to go airborne. So far this is the most unpredictable number they’ve conceived. Every time you try to gauge it, you’re misdirected. For instance, once you think you are submerged in a ceaseless battle between brats, a counselor intervenes and just like that the disagreement is settled. The sighs of relief are actually heard by the group and I kid you not, that’s no joke. Across the turf, there are several more outbursts from Stenberg’s belligerent guitars. While Holstad’s bass and Johannessen’s drums try to hush him, he is not easily subdued by the mere threat of hazing. When he is finally quiet, we find Marshall’s keyboards creating mischief in his place. As we turn our attention away from the rotten seed, he seizes the opportunity to go bad to the bone again. When he does, we get riffs and tantrums on par with “Devil Went Down to Georgia.” All around this song is pleasantly-exhausting and fulfilling thanks to the assistance from the grown-ups in the mix. Furthermore, in terms of the multi-pronged marathon that this song is a part of, we spend the most time here. As they say, time flies when you’re having fun and this was done in the four separate acts I’ve more or less pinned down. These split-personalities consist of “Song of Decision,” “Song of Anger,” “Song of Sharing” and “Face to Face.”
Circus of Life Pt. V – The Clown
If you were wondering why the funnymen were absent, it’s due to the fact that Cedric and the other entertainers occupied all the other stages. With jugglers, fire-eaters, acrobatics and more, we finally get pratfalls, slapstick, and jesters. Like countless famous stand-up comics, there is a frown behind the laughter. Before it’s all over, we get a sardonic discussion that hinges on a miserable experience in the company of satirical stories. Still, the expressions and smiles from the watchers are cathartic. In addition, the response is empathetic. This makes the conclusion a positive pot of gold at the end of an almost violently-vibrant rainbow.
Pointless Masquerade
I can’t read what they are saying as there is meaning in the pretext. At the very least, it speaks to me. After shuffling through a complicated deck that accounts for five intense chapters, we receive this whimsical piece with a grin. Gilbert‘s keyboards embody the wildly-droll instrument of Ryo Okumoto while Stenberg is back at it yet again with an unequivocal series of eruptions from his guitar. The Latin influences seem less Spanish and more Neal Morse whereas the upbeat section has Moon Safari written all over it. At its stature, it’s nice to discover that the smallest souvenir sapped from the knapsack is both comprehensive and complete.

Watching the Waters
It’s hard to close out any event after following so many strong performances. Nevertheless, this noble ringleader puts the entire display within the necessary context by supplying enlightening advice over the PA system. Kiddy-corner from the bleachers, a behind-the-scenes coordinator brings out The Flower Kings and Queen. For the climax, a harmonica ties it all together and then brings it to a remarkably-smashing end.
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