Powerful, soulful, and rootsy, Magnolia Mountain embraces and explores That Midwestern Thing in a big-tent-Americana juggernaut that draws from rock, southern soul, folk, country, bluegrass, blues, and rockabilly. But no matter where they take it, "they have the rare ability to inhabit any branch of Roots music and still sound unmistakably like Magnolia Mountain." (Brian Baker, CityBeat).
Armed with three lead singers, an encyclopedic knowledge of American music and gorgeous 2-, 3-, and 4-part close harmony vocals, Magnolia Mountain will appeal to fans of roots music, old and new. Drawing from the deep well of American music, Magnolia Mountain takes different genres, finds the common thread within, and translates them into their own original songs that both pay tribute to the past and carve out their own place in today’s musical landscape.
The band is led by songwriter Mark Utley on vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and banjo. Mark is joined by vocalists Melissa English and Renee Frye, guitarist Jeff Vanover, keyboardist Dusty Bryant, bassist Victor Strunk, and drummer Todd Drake. Magnolia Mountain plays regularly around the greater Cincinnati area, performing Mark's original songs as well as an eclectic selection of covers that range from the Staple Singers to Son Volt, from Buddy Miller to the Flying Burrito Brothers, and from Hank Williams Sr., to the Drive-By Truckers. They are at home in quiet "listening rooms", rowdy bars, and anywhere in between.
Magnolia Mountain has been nominated for Cincinnati Entertainment Awards in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012 (including four nominations in 2010: Artist of the Year, Album of the Year [for Redbird Green], Best Folk/Americana act, and Best Singer/Songwriter [Mark Utley]), in addition to performing at the 2009 CEA awards ceremony. Mark was also nominated for Singer/Songwriter in 2012 and performed along with Renee at the 2012 CEA awards ceremony. Along with performing at venues as the Southgate House, Madison Theater, Northside Tavern, The Comet, Leo Coffeehouse and The Crow's Nest, they’ve also taken part in festivals such as Twangfest 14 (in St. Louis), the Whispering Beard Folk Festival, MidPoint Music Festival, Rabbit Hash Old Timer's Day, EdenSong, The Ohio River Way Paddlefest, Rivertown Breakdown, Music for the Mountains, and Metamora Old Time Music Festival. Magnolia Mountain has also played a Studio 89 session live on WNKU radio and a live session on KDHX-FM in St. Louis.
Their first album, Nothing as it Was, was released in February 2009. CityBeat magazine called it "soulful, haunting and pure, taking the best of Country, Folk and Bluegrass and refracting it through a modern prism. It rings incredibly authentic and timeless, and album that could have come out 40, 30 or 20 years ago but is too lively and crafty to stand as some sort of retro-music museum piece".
In October 2009, the band returned to Ultrasuede Studio with producer John Curley to begin recording their second album. June 19, 2010 saw the release of Redbird Green, an ambitious 17-song project released on both CD and 2-LP vinyl. This date also saw the release of the band's initial video from the album, "Hellbound Train", directed by Cliff Jenkins.
Redbird Green was heralded by reviewers as "a master class in Americana" (David Kronke), and "an album that exhibits how great American roots music can be" (Donny Kutzbach, Left of the Dial), while the band itself was praised as being "like The Last Waltz come back to life as one unified band" (Mike Breen, CityBeat).
Much of late 2010 and early 2011 was spent in preparation for Music for the Mountains, a benefit concert (with an accompanying album) that was put together by Magnolia Mountain frontman Mark Utley to raise awareness and funds to help fight against mountaintop removal coal mining. The February 2011 event at the historic Southgate House raised almost $12,000 toward this cause. You can read more about it here. Music for the Mountains 2 is scheduled for October 2013.
In April 2012, Magnolia Mountain released their third album, Town and Country. An 18-song double album, Town and Country was once again produced by John Curley at Ultrasuede, and is available on both CD and 2-LP vinyl. The album features 16 new original songs, including "Shotgun Divorce" (a duet with Bloodshot Records artist Lydia Loveless), as well as two covers: "Don't Leave Just Now" (originally by fellow Cincinnatians Wussy) and "Just to Know What You've Been Dreaming" (written by Centro-matic's Will Johnson).
Magnolia Mountain's fourth album, Beloved, and bandleader Mark Utley's solo album, Four Chords and a Lie (featuring his Honky Tonk Country side-project Bulletville on five tracks), will be released this summer on July 27.