This is definitely Year of the Golden Pig and, as usual, it is a good year if only for the fact that Maggi Jane and Pierce Ternay have gone duo and actually released something in that form. After twelve years producing excellent music with cohort EJ (as in Maggi, Pierce & EJ), they now add to their resume, foregoing electric instruments for the simple accoutremental acoustic ones, easily gathered and packed for touring. They are, in fact, on the road as I type, supporting the Year album and introducing baby daughter Diver to their world. It is a good world and a kind world and, most of all, a musical world.
Their world is a simple yet complex combination of musical styles, easily accessible and quite unique. Maggi Jane, with her sometimes childlike voice and fascination with the world both good and bad, anchors Pierce and gives him ample foundation. What Pierce gives Maggi is hard to put into words. Alone, they make music. Together, they make magic (and Divers).
That magic is on the whole smoother than previous efforts with EJ, only partially due to the exclusion of electric instruments. Pierce is a master at doing more with less, layering sound sometimes with guitar, sometimes with the studio. The result is full and warm as is the sound, which wraps around Maggi's vocals, and sometimes Pierce's own, like a favored blanket.
You can hardly call what they do folk or pop or even Americana, whatever that has come to be known lately. After thirteen-plus years creating music, they have created their own sound, their own way of looking at things, so let us just say that they do Hymn for Her, a combination of genres and sounds and whatever it takes to create the whole. Like an excellent film director, they create pieces and splice them together seamlessly. They are artists.
Take Mountain. A bird call and banjo intro (Comin' Round the Mountain) give way to driving acoustic rhythm guitar and Maggi whose voice fades behind Pierce's and gives way to chorus, subdued yelling in the background, and then slow voice with yodel (Pierce nails it).
And Drive, an insane and incredibly catchy drive to madness. Simple and direct, Pierce lays down train track acoustic guitar rhythms (the underbelly) while Maggi Jane plucks single notes on banjo, voices perfect over rhythmic sound effects of wiper blades and rain, verses long and lean, Pierce's voice at first deep, then concert high before joining Maggi's higher and in-sync tones. No throat massage here. She steps into the abyss, a list of destinations/visitations a la I've Been Everywhere squeezed through a car radio and ending with the repeated "I'm a killah" which stops just short of insanity (yours, not hers).
Of course, those are anomalies, but anomalies only in that they rock in a more peaceful setting. The lighter side dominates, from the Spanish-flavored Tatiana to the country-ish Killin' the Pain to the old-timey and, believe it or not, pop influenced Highway Maggi (the harmonies are straight out of the sixties).
They end it all with two tracks not listed. The first is a short insertion of highway sound effects. It rolls into a simple and alluring song of returning home (or is it), lightly plucked acoustic guitar beneath soft vocals and basic banjo at beginning and end. This is the way to end an album, slowing things to a melodious crawl. Perfecto.
The astonishing thing here is that Maggi, Pierce and EJ—and in this case, Maggi & Pierce—struggle in relative obscurity while others less talented (and certainly less adventurous) prosper. It is a black eye on the music business, obscured by a thousand other black eyes. But it doesn't have to be that way. You can help a couple of struggling artists and beef up your music at the same time. Buy this CD. Listen to it a thousand times. Then buy one for a friend. After all, every journey begins with a single step.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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