Magnolia Mountain
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Magnolia Mountain

Brookville, Ohio, United States | INDIE

Brookville, Ohio, United States | INDIE
Band Americana Alternative

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Nov
27
Magnolia Mountain @ Mr Pitiful's

Cincinnati, OH

Cincinnati, OH

Apr
27
Magnolia Mountain @ Southgate House Revival

Newport, Kentucky, USA

Newport, Kentucky, USA

Apr
13
Magnolia Mountain @ Arnold's Bar & Grill

Cincinnati, Ohio, USA

Cincinnati, Ohio, USA

Music

Press


Reluctantly ducking out of the Harlequins set, I headed over to the Cincinnatus Stage to check out newly shorn singer/songwriter Mark Utley and three of his Magnolia Mountain compatriots, longtime vocalist Melissa English, new vocalist Renee Frye and recently installed guitarist Jeff Vanover. Although this was billed as a Mark Utley show, most of the set seemed geared toward Magnolia Mountain, with some tracks from the band's about-to-be-released album "Beloved", a few from their excellent back catalog and a smoldering cover of Buddy and Julie Miller's "Gasoline and Matches." "Beloved" will be joined on its release date by Utley's debut as a solo artist, "Four Chords and a Lie", a more stripped down Country affair, but in either context, Utley's songwriting prowess is obvious. For Bunbury, Utley presented this quartet version of Magnolia, with the exquisite harmony-to-lead vocals of English and Frye, Vanover's powerfully sinewy guitar and Utley himself as the soft-spoken eye at the center of Magnolia Mountain's hurricane of talent. With the release of two distinct albums in the offing, you're likely to see any number of structural combinations supporting them; solo, duo, trio, quartet or full band (with occasional guests from past line-ups, no less). The certainty is that you'll be witnessing something truly extraordinary when you stand in front of Mark Utley and any conceivable version of Magnolia Mountain. - CityBeat - July 24, 2013


On their first three albums, Mark Utley and Magnolia Mountain set out to prove just how diverse one band can be, mastering pure bluegrass, straight country, rocked-up Americana and swaggering rockabilly, with touches of twangy gospel prayers and tangy Cajun spices. With "Beloved", their fourth outing, Utley and the freshly retooled Magnolia Mountain concentrate on the Americana end of the spectrum with an emphasis on the blues and rock aspects of their sound, resulting in a wonderfully dark and driving album that details the various shades of bruising caused by every relationship. The diversity on "Beloved" comes from the songs themselves, from aching ballads to ballsy rockers, and in their presentation, as Utley occasionally stands down to allow longtime vocalist Melissa English and new voice Renee Frye to take the mic and the lead spotlight. "Beloved" is smolderingly intense even in its quietest moments, positively incendiary when it's amplified and very likely to be the album that takes Magnolia Mountain to the next level. - CityBeat - August 1, 2013


Mark Utley has proven to be pretty great in the songwriting department; perhaps less so on the editing end.

The last two Magnolia Mountain albums, 2010’s Redbird Green and 2012’s Town and Country, were legitimate double albums, packed to the very edge of a CD’s load limit. Both albums were designed with an intentional four-sides-of-vinyl flow, which was evident on the digital versions and proven with Kickstarter-funded pressings of actual double-vinyl versions.

Thankfully, Utley’s songwriting acumen has totally overshadowed his lack of editing skills. Neither Magnolia Mountain album felt overly long nor would they have significantly benefited from trimming their track lists to a more conventional length.

Given Utley’s success with quantity on the first two Magnolia Mountain releases, it might seem slightly odd that the band’s fourth catalog entry, Beloved, clocks in at a breezy 44 minutes and features just 11 tracks (much like the band’s 2009 debut, Nothing as It Was).

It becomes less of a mystery when coupled with the fact that Utley has bundled the release dates of Beloved and his first solo offering, Four Chords and a Lie, where you’ll find an additional 10 songs and Magnolia Mountain’s missing 35 minutes.

“I just write so much,” Utley says with a laugh over beers and dinner at Northside hangout The Comet. “Even with the solo album aside, this one was always going to be a single record. As much as I’ve enjoyed doing the double albums and as much as people seemed to like them, it’s daunting for some people. It’s a lot to digest, even if you break it into four sides. I’ve spent the last year paring down these songs, cutting out choruses and taking out bridges and moving things around. I wanted an album full of sharp, focused, three-and-a-half-minute songs that made some kind of stylistic sense together. I think we did it.”

Magnolia Mountain has always exhibited a broad sonic diversity, moving easily from Country to Folk to rootsy Americana to twangy Rock. Utley decided to use his solo debut (which also features his side band, Bulletville, on a handful of tracks) as a repository for the more Country aspects of his writing spectrum, leaving the heavier, bluesier, funkier tracks for Magnolia Mountain.

“The biggest difference is stylistic,” Utley says. “We started doing the Bulletville project last fall and that came out of some trio shows we did with Cameron Cochran joining us on pedal steel. There’s a couple of people in Magnolia Mountain that are not as crazy about Country music as others, and the situation presented itself where we could start this thing as an extension of the trio, which was myself, Renee (Frye) and Jeff (Vanover). Then when Cameron started playing, we put a rhythm section to it, which was (bassist) Chris Cusentino and (drummer) Brian Aylor, and we’ve got Ricky Nye on piano and organ, for God’s sake.

“That freed up Magnolia Mountain to be a little more stylistically pure, in a sense. We took the more blatantly Country stuff out and put it over here and that left us with a little more focused palette, if you will. Lyrically, they’re probably pretty well related, they’re just in a different musical framework.”

Since Utley assembled Magnolia Mountain in 2007, one of the band’s most consistent qualities has been its revolving door membership. As it stands now, the only original members of Magnolia Mountain remaining in the band are Utley and vocalist Melissa English.

The rest of the current lineup is aforementioned vocalist Renee Frye, guitarist Jeff Vanover, drummer Todd Drake, who joined just prior to Town and Country, keyboardist Dusty Bryant and local bass icon Victor Strunk, who, like Drake, formerly played with The Hiders, Ruby Vileos and many others. (Strunk has gone full-time with the band since relocating from Brooklyn, N.Y., back to Cincinnati.)

Utley is quick to acknowledge that the direction of any given Magnolia Mountain album has been largely determined by the lineup at the time.

“It’s completely all about that, actually,” Utley says. “We’ve grown and shrunk, some people have left under good circumstances, some left under a cloud, but I think that has a lot to do with explaining the different personalities of each of the records. As a songwriter, you tend to write to the strengths of the people you have around you.

“When Jordan (Neff) and Amber (Nash) left to concentrate on (Cincy Folk Pop band) Shiny and the Spoon, we brought Renee in to replace Amber, and singing with Renee has been a revelation. She’s got this sweet Southern soulful thing that slays me. It’s like we finish each other’s musical sentences. And then having her come in on top of the thing I already had going with Melissa, because I’ve been singing with her for the better part of 20 years … they’ve both been a godsend. We’ve been featuring the girls more and I’ve been writing songs for them to sing and they just sing the shit out of this stuff.”

For the foreseeable future, - CityBeat - July 24, 2013


If Magnolia Mountain‘s new album consisted just of Mark Utley’s hot duet with Lydia Loveless on the butt-kicking country rocker “Shotgun Divorce,” and the elegiac bluegrass ballad “The Hand Of Man” about mountain-top removal coal mining in Appalachia, and the band’s devastatingly sad cover of Wussy’s “Don’t Leave Just Now” – it would be enough. But Town and Country, the sprawling country masterpiece by the Cincinnati octet has 18 tracks and is being released on one long CD or a double-disc vinyl album. Riches untold.

This is Utley’s third full-length studio recording as leader of this big country band, which keeps getting better on each outing. This one was recorded over about a six-month period starting in July 2011, and I suspect many of the members have day jobs or other gigs. But somewhere in there, Utley also finds time to write some high-quality songs and corral this gaggle of musicians to performances and studio sessions, and be a family man as well. And in 2011 he also spearheaded a major project called Music For The Mountains, a compilation of music by artists from Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana and Alabama to benefit organizations that are fighting to stop mountaintop removal mining.

One of the things Utley stands for is a connection to the land and to the music of our collective past, and he’s well-versed in the various threads that are woven into the fabric of country music. All of his albums are primers in country music’s variety, this one perhaps more than its predecessors. It starts with “Black Mollie,” a rollicking bluegrass reel that makes explicit the connection between Scots-Irish folk and American stringband music. This song is a fine example of everything that is right about this album: Utley’s banjo and Kathy Woods’s fiddle and the sweet harmony vocals of Melissa English and Renee Frye, and not least the fine production, in which each instrument and voice has its place in the spacious arrangement.

In addition to the opener and “The Hand Of Man,” other bluegrass and old-time tracks include “The Old Ways,” about that connection to the land and the music, and the gospel “All My Numbered Days.” But there’s the classic country shuffle, “One Waking Moment,” and the love songs “Mister Moon” and the countryfied arrangement of Will Johnson’s (Centro-Matic, South San Gabriel) “Just To Know What You’ve Been Dreaming.” As for the town part of Town and Country, “Bad For Me” is a gritty urbane blues that Dave Alvin would be proud of, “The Devil We Know” brooding country noir and “Baby Let’s Pretend” rocking honky-tonk. “Rainmaker” is chugging Memphis style country soul with lots of color from organ, lap steel, slide guitar and a couple of saxophones, and “Train To Glory” is a rockabilly gospel number with some more hot organ and harmonica licks. And Utley & Co. wrap it all up with the blue love song “Cry For Me” and the sweet parental love note “A Light To Bring You Home.”

In addition to Utley on banjo and acoustic and electric guitar, and those already named, Magnolia Mountain includes Jeff Vanover on electric guitar, Bob Lese on mandolin and harmonica, Bob Donisi on acoustic and electric bass and Todd Drake on drums. They’re a heck of a band and keep getting better. I hope I get to see them on stage some day.

(This Is American Music, 2012) - Sleeping Hedgehog - March 25, 2012


When people are confronted with my ridiculously voluminous music collection, they are most often struck with its distinct lack of commonality. Growing up within 70 miles of Detroit in the ’60s will do that; anything you can imagine between and beyond Motown and The Stooges will generally light my sparkler.
In reference to music specifically and to life in general, I have often remarked, “Specialization is for insects,” but if Mark Utley would like to borrow the phrase when he’s talking about his band, Cincinnati's Magnolia Mountain, he’s more than welcome.
From the band’s beginnings six years ago, Utley has endeavored to reconcile his Rock past with his fresh love of all things Americana by investing his Magnolia Mountain output with a reverence for the Bluegrass, Folk, Country and Rock forms while investing them with fresh angles, lines and perspectives. Like a sculptor who has immense respect for the permanence of the stone but also implicitly trusts his chisel and creative vision, Utley shapes the raw material of Americana’s various stylistic permutations into songs that are comfortably familiar yet blazingly original. That ethic was a hallmark of Magnolia Mountain’s last double album, 2010’s Redbird Green, and it comes into even sharper focus on the band’s third and latest release, the aptly titled Town and Country.

Part of Magnolia Mountain’s variance from album to album is at least partially due to the shifts in personnel that have affected the band from the start. At the same time, Magnolia Mountain has always been something of a rotating collective with guests becoming permanent members and members becoming guests. Town and Country follows that template, as Jordan Neff and Amber Nash (who left to devote full attention to their side project, Shiny and the Spoon) and David Rhodes Brown (who has defected from his numerous band affiliations to concentrate on solo/side work) appear sporadically on the album’s 18 tracks. And once again, guests abound on Town and Country, including piano master Ricky Nye, Tillers banjo ninja Mike Oberst and Americana chanteuse Lydia Loveless, among others.
Utley’s grounding in and love of vinyl forces him to think of his dozen and a half songs in the context of four separate sides (which he also did on Redbird Green; both albums are available in double vinyl format), and the first side is indicative of the broad range of Town and Country. “Black Mollie” kicks things off like a traditional Folk ode, “One Waking Moment” is a classic Appalachian Bluegrass break-up jaunt and “Baby Let’s Pretend” is a bopping Country thumper that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Rodney Crowell or T Bone Burnett set.
But just when you think you’ve got Magnolia Mountain pinned down, Utley and company (Jeff Vanover, Melissa English, Renee Frye, Bob Lese, Kathy Woods, Bob Donisi and Todd Drake) blister the paint with the wicked Blues menace of “Set on Fire,” with sweet “sugar, sugar” backing vocals, searing slide guitar and thundering rhythm section. That quartet is a mere hint at the broad spectrum of styles and approaches that Magnolia Mountain achieves on Town and Country, from the funky twang soul Blues of “Rainmaker” to the supercharged Roots Rock swing of “Shotgun Divorce” (Utley’s duet with Loveless) to the atmospheric swamp boogie of “The Devil We Know,” as well as superb covers of Will Johnson’s “Just to Know What You’ve Been Dreaming” and Wussy’s “Don’t Leave Just Now.”
As usual, the brilliance of Utley’s songwriting is that he and Magnolia Mountain craft each track as a separate jewel that fits perfectly into the gorgeous crown that is Town and Country. - CityBeat - June 4, 2012


After a successful run with their last album Redbird Green, Ohio’s Magnolia Mountain (MM) is back with their follow up Town & Country on This Is American Music. Head honcho Mark Utley has once again pilfered the musical storage box that is in his mind and constructed a record full of tunes that pull sounds from a wide array of music. Utley and cohorts have crafted each song as an individual piece of work that stands on its own but when brought together make each other better.

Starting the album is the banjo heavy bluegrass tune “Black Mollie”. With the sound and feel of old time Appalachia; don’t get fooled by the quaintness of the opening track becauseTown & Country has more turns than a NASCAR race. On “Rainmaker” and “Set On Fire”. dirty blues take over with blistering guitars and southern rhythms. They channel their inner honky tonk with “Baby, Let’s Pretend”, a country track with rock-a-billy undertones. “The Devil We Know” packs brooding rhythms and haunting vocals taking the listener to a dark place while “Train To Glory” is a bouncy uplifting southern gospel tinged tune. A nice addition is Lydia Loveless making an appearance on “Shotgun Divorce”. Her voice is a nice compliment to Utley’s on this country-rock tune.

Magnolia Mountain continues to produce good music. They do not follow a specific formula when creating their music. All of their songs and albums have their own unique sound yet are all remarkably cohesive. The quality of their albums just keeps getting better with each release and on Town & Country MM has set the musical bar even higher. - Atlanta Music Examiner - June 20, 2012


A Cincinnati-based eight-piece country rock combo, Magnolia Mountain are very much the brainchild of Mark Utley, a big man with a big sound and judging by this a big talent. Singer, guitar, and banjo player and writer of all but two of the 18 songs here, one senses that Utley is steeped in rock, country, and blues with the result that the album is a smorgasbord of delights. Fiddle-laced romps sit side by side with slide-driven rockers and devilish blues moans, an eclectic mix indeed and it goes some way to explain the dichotomy of the album’s title.
The country side is evident from the start with Black Mollie where a rustic fiddle leads into a Celtic influenced jaunt with banjo and mandolin sprinkled throughout. One Waking Moment continues with this mandolin and fiddle country style but with a smoother approach and some nice Bakersfield-type electric guitar flourishes. The Old Ways ripples along with some fine fiddle soloing from Kathy Woods that is spinechilling. This is a thrilling song that sounds as old as the hills and ably demonstrates Utley’s ability to capture in his lyrics age-old worries. He brings this band up to date however on the tremendous Hand of Man, a great folk song that rails against the despoliation of the country by mining companies who are “greedy for that coal” and the consequences of their greed.

“White Star Holler was my home. Shared the crops that we had grown, Shared the water from our well, Shared the life we loved so well, Coal men brought the mountain down, Leaked their poison underground, Mother, neighbour, friend, and son, Cancer took them, every one.”

Delivered with a fiery passion and with some great harmony singing by Melissa English and Renee Frye the song blazes with a righteous indignation fuelled by the real life protest against mountain top mining in the Appalachians that led Utley to compile a protest album Music For The Mountains. The sweeter All My Numbered Days runs like a clear mountain stream and is reminiscent of John Hartford with its country pop sensibility.
Back in the grittier side of town life, Magnolia Mountain prove themselves to be capable of some fine urban grooves and bluesy slinks. Baby, Let’s Pretend is like a blue-collar version of The Mavericks while Set On Fire grinds its loins lustily. The Southern soul groove of Rainmaker is rousing and sexy with an infectious dance feel while The Devil We Know is an impressionistic and spooky film noire set to music. Guest vocalist Lydia Loveless adds some fire and brimstone to the fast paced and slide guitar driven duet that is Shotgun Divorce, where Utley and Loveless toss insults and threats as if they were trailer park descendants of Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra.
There’s a temptation to conjure up the word “epic” to describe this but this is partly because it arrived as a beautiful double vinyl album package and compared to the usual CD review copies it just seems, well, big. While I’d recommend the vinyl, it is available in digital form. Whatever format you go for, it’s a great album. - Blabber 'n' Smoke (Glasgow, Scotland) - June 23, 2012


A Cincinnati-based eight-piece country rock combo, Magnolia Mountain are very much the brainchild of Mark Utley, a big man with a big sound and judging by this a big talent. Singer, guitar, and banjo player and writer of all but two of the 18 songs here, one senses that Utley is steeped in rock, country, and blues with the result that the album is a smorgasbord of delights. Fiddle-laced romps sit side by side with slide-driven rockers and devilish blues moans, an eclectic mix indeed and it goes some way to explain the dichotomy of the album’s title.
The country side is evident from the start with Black Mollie where a rustic fiddle leads into a Celtic influenced jaunt with banjo and mandolin sprinkled throughout. One Waking Moment continues with this mandolin and fiddle country style but with a smoother approach and some nice Bakersfield-type electric guitar flourishes. The Old Ways ripples along with some fine fiddle soloing from Kathy Woods that is spinechilling. This is a thrilling song that sounds as old as the hills and ably demonstrates Utley’s ability to capture in his lyrics age-old worries. He brings this band up to date however on the tremendous Hand of Man, a great folk song that rails against the despoliation of the country by mining companies who are “greedy for that coal” and the consequences of their greed.

“White Star Holler was my home. Shared the crops that we had grown, Shared the water from our well, Shared the life we loved so well, Coal men brought the mountain down, Leaked their poison underground, Mother, neighbour, friend, and son, Cancer took them, every one.”

Delivered with a fiery passion and with some great harmony singing by Melissa English and Renee Frye the song blazes with a righteous indignation fuelled by the real life protest against mountain top mining in the Appalachians that led Utley to compile a protest album Music For The Mountains. The sweeter All My Numbered Days runs like a clear mountain stream and is reminiscent of John Hartford with its country pop sensibility.
Back in the grittier side of town life, Magnolia Mountain prove themselves to be capable of some fine urban grooves and bluesy slinks. Baby, Let’s Pretend is like a blue-collar version of The Mavericks while Set On Fire grinds its loins lustily. The Southern soul groove of Rainmaker is rousing and sexy with an infectious dance feel while The Devil We Know is an impressionistic and spooky film noire set to music. Guest vocalist Lydia Loveless adds some fire and brimstone to the fast paced and slide guitar driven duet that is Shotgun Divorce, where Utley and Loveless toss insults and threats as if they were trailer park descendants of Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra.
There’s a temptation to conjure up the word “epic” to describe this but this is partly because it arrived as a beautiful double vinyl album package and compared to the usual CD review copies it just seems, well, big. While I’d recommend the vinyl, it is available in digital form. Whatever format you go for, it’s a great album. - Blabber 'n' Smoke (Glasgow, Scotland) - June 23, 2012


Town and Country is the third long player in almost as many years from this band of Cincinnati roots rockers led by Singer/Songwriter/Producer Mark Utley, and seeks to raise the bar on previous albums which have garnered favourable comparisons with The Band’s all-encompassing Americana stew.

Town and Country, an 18 track double album no less, attempts to meld the band’s more traditional country, folk and mountain music core with a grittier rock and blues feel, so not only is the line-up extended to an eight piece (not to mention a cast of guests) but the stylistic goal posts have been widened to include any and all styles of classic American music. As wide-eyed bids for musical liberation go its certainly no London Calling but the country tunes now sit comfortably alongside spirited stabs at Stax Soul, Soft Rock balladry, Gospel, acoustic laments and swaggering bar-room Blues. Despite the ever-changing styles, Town and Country hangs together rather well.

Among the highlights, the ragged "Shotgun Divorce" (a duet of marital disharmony with Lydia Loveless) is good rowdy fun, while conversely "The Devil We Know" offers wonderfully portentous ghostly harmony before the band pile in to whip up an evocative Blues-infused drive. The tremulous "Bad For Me" is a slow-burning, almost 80s inspired, pop-rock number while "Hard to See" is Utley at his most tender and direct. The musicianship and arrangements throughout are exemplary, as they traverse their many styles - whether knocking out Bluegrass like "The Hand of Man", or sweat-drenched blues chuggers. - Americana UK - June 26, 2012


Clocking in at 18 songs and 75 minutes, I can no longer justifiably call any album other than Town and Country a tour de force. And it's not just the sheer quantity of music here: every one of the 18 tracks here is top-notch.

Magnolia Mountain's music can best be described as Americana. You've got everything from country to folk rock, gospel, Appalachian folk, rockabilly, etc. etc. In spite of this diversity, however, Magnolia Mountain's "voice" can be heard all the way through, which should be expected of a band's fourth album. I can't quite explain what the "voice" is -- I probably will be able to after a few listens, but I've already sat on this review for a criminally long time.

Led by Mark Utley, the band -- which consists of Melissa English and Renee Frye on background vocals, Jeff Vanover on a number of stringed instruments, Bob Lese on mandolin and harmonica, Kathy Woods on fiddle and more mandolin, Bob Donisi on bass, and Todd Drake on drums -- must be dynamic live. Most bands have their hands full getting all three to four members to sound unified. Magnolia Mountain sounds like they've been playing together since the womb.

"Mister Moon" happens to be my favorite song at the moment. I picked the other two songs at random -- the album is so diverse and consistently good that any sample of songs would be representative of their music.

Go forth and purchase. Only five dollars for an hour of knock-your-socks-off awesome! - Adobe and Teardrops - July 11, 2012


Another excellent release from This Is American Music, Magnolia Mountain makes far more traditional country/Appalachian folk than most of TIAM’s rockier bands; beautiful harmonies and great picking on both guitar and banjo. Contains a startlingly spectacular cover of Will Johnson’s gorgeous “Just To Know What You’ve Been Dreaming”. - "Brand New Kind of" (Blog) - August 3, 2012


Another excellent release from This Is American Music, Magnolia Mountain makes far more traditional country/Appalachian folk than most of TIAM’s rockier bands; beautiful harmonies and great picking on both guitar and banjo. Contains a startlingly spectacular cover of Will Johnson’s gorgeous “Just To Know What You’ve Been Dreaming”. - "Brand New Kind of" (Blog) - August 3, 2012


Roots rock / alt.country band Magnolia Mountain from Cincinnati is out with their third album, Town and Country, available as a double album on vinyl, and also as a CD and digital download.

Town and Country is a particularly varied and beautiful affair, with some songs of an otherworldly quality. There is very great variety of musical expression, and two cover versions thrown in. The band leader, songwriter, and singer is Mark Utley, but he has great help from the rest of the band, which for this occasion is enhanced with various respected musicians (among others, singer Lydia Loveless).

We get our first taste of Town and Country's musical diversity on the opening track, "Black Mollie". Pretty Irish in sound, with fiddle and banjo. According to the band, folk music from the Appalachian Mountains. "One Waking Moment" is more straighforward, simple folk country, lighter and easier-sounding than its predecessor. They turn over for more blues-inspired tunes on "Baby, Let's Pretend", though still light and bouncy. "Set on Fire" takes it all the way, with fuzzy slide guitar, a heavier sound, and a screaming harmonica along the way. "Rainmaker" is a Booker T.-inspired rave-up, and expands the musical landscape even more. Next is their duet with Lydia Loveless called "Shotgun Divorce". Not exactly punk in sound (maybe more in attitude and mood), but very good anyway. "Bad for Me" puts them on the ballad track, with a beautiful saxophone prowling mostly in the background. A little slower in pace, but quite beautiful.

The first cover song included is "Just to Know What You've Been Dreaming", written by Will Johnson from Centro-matic. And here they lift the roof all the way off, because this ballad is absolutely lovely and delivered beautifully. "The Devil We Know” is dark, Celtic- inspired blues-rock. Things get a little lighter on the slow, November-night ballad "Mister Moon". "The Old Ways" takes a new detour to the Appalachians, with the return of the fiddle and banjo, which are also featured on "The Hand of Man" and "All My Numbered Days". "Train To Glory" increases the speed as the band "drives that train" with a fine organ and fine harmonica. Singer and songwriter Mark Utley is completely alone with his acoustic guitar on "Hard To See", a concert recording from a pub, which fits nicely into the concept of the rest of the album.

"Don't Leave Just Now" shows that Mark Utley is not only a splendid songwriter, but also knows how to pick up nice tunes by others to record. This song, by fellow Cincinnati band Wussy, led me to another great new band to explore. And again, it is an indescribably beautiful ballad. They are situated in the same mood with "Cry For Me", still quite beautiful. And here they could actually stop. But thankfully they don't, as "A Light to Bring You Home" leads us home in good shape. With marginally higher speed, and a little more sound, it's still nice and tender. The layered harmonies bring to mind an Americana-edition of the Beach Boys.

While 18 tracks might seem to be a bit much to handle in one sitting, Town and Country does not feel like that. The great variety and the strong tunes make it easy to keep coming back to this record.

Another splendid record from the big country in the west. - firdaposten.no (Translated from the original Norwegian) - July 17, 2012


By Brian Baker

Gather round, kids. Pappy wants to tell you how it was in the old days. Way back then, we used to get our music on big black dinner plates we put on a revolving platter and then played using an arm with a diamond needle at the end which would run along in a groove and make the music come out of the dinner plate. Then you’d have to get up and turn over the plate to hear the other side.

Hey, don’t look at me like that. Your music comes flying through wires willy-nilly and it’s made of ones and zeros, and if your computer machine crashes you don’t have a single solitary note of music left. Your way doesn’t make any more sense than ours.

The point is that local Americana/Roots outfit Magnolia Mountain remembers the old days and wanted to connect with them in some significant way, so they’re releasing their new ambitiously sized CD, Redbird Green, in a double-album vinyl format. It was clearly a structure Magnolia frontman Mark Utley was working toward; the titles on the back of the CD are separated into four distinct sides.

“I’m a vinyl freak and I wanted to do the first record on vinyl but we didn’t have enough money,” Utley says from the living room of his Price Hill home. “Sitting down with one CD for an hour can be a little exhausting, but the good thing about the record is its broken into logical sections. You can listen to three or four songs at a time and they fit together with themselves as well as they fit as a piece with the whole thing.”

And while the Magnolias are going old-school technology on the vinyl release of Redbird Green, the band’s methodology to raise the funds to finance the pressing and printing of the album was on the cutting edge of Web networking. Utley posted the album on Kickstarter.com, a new fundraising site for musicians, artists, inventors or anyone looking to get a project bankrolled.

“We put it up as a project we were working on and asked for donations,” Utley explains. “We had a goal of $3,500 initially, but when all was said and done we had gotten almost $6,000 in donations. We were just trying to get enough to make a double album, nothing fancy, just a thick sleeve that both records would fit in, but now it’s turned into a gatefold, with a nice Michael Wilson photo of us across the inside, full color everything.”

“Ambitious” is the word for Magnolia Mountain all the way around. The band — Utley on vocals, guitar and banjo, guitarist Jordan Neff, vocalist Melissa English, Bob Lese on mandolin and harmonica, upright bassist Bob Donisi, drummer Matt Frazer — released its debut album, Nothing As It Was, last February to fairly universal acclaim and in the interim lost a member (steel guitarist Rockne Riddlebarger) and added others (vocalist Amber Nash, Neff’s partner from Shiny and the Spoon, and local guitar legend David Rhodes Brown). Most bands would require a period of adjustment to sort that all out, but Utley had different plans for Magnolia Mountain. The first order of business was to keep writing.

“When we did the CD release show for the first one, we did an extra five songs at the end of the show, which turned out to be five of the songs on this record,” Utley says. “We just kind of kept rolling. If there was any problem at all, it was knowing when to stop. What do we not put on this record?” The Magnolias debated the wisdom of including so much material on the album, but eventually they decided to release the CD with 17 tracks at just over 70 minutes. It was clearly the right move: Redbird Green, once again produced by John Curley at Ultrasuede, plays with the breezy pace of a single album.

“There were a lot of discussions about that; I wrote the lion’s share of (the songs) so they’re all kind of like my babies, I don’t want to get rid of any of them,” Utley says with a laugh. “But I also don’t want to be the guy who can’t edit himself, so I was always asking, ‘What should we take off? What should we leave?’ At one point, we had the lucky 13, and of the lucky 13 we chose 17.”

“Reality demanded that we stop,” English says. Much of the album’s appeal lies in the fact that Magnolia Mountain is adept at so many different styles under the Americana umbrella: the straight up Country of “Emma Claire” and “Savannah,” the rousing Rockabilly of “Hellbound Train,” the Gospel-drenched “I Do Believe,” the Cajun spice of “Ma Belle Marie.” It’s a testament to Utley’s creative vision and the amazing execution of the Magnolias that the genre mash-up on Redbird Green doesn’t sound choppy.

“I think the band had gelled more and I know this all sounds like an after-game sports interview, where they say, ‘I just want to help the team,’ but it was a more cohesive unit,” Utley says. “Everybody molded better.”

“With the first one, we had a lot of the arrangements pretty well established,” Neff says.

“Whereas with this one a lot of that stuff was written in the studio.”

As on the first album, studio guests helped expand the Magnolias’ so - CityBeat - June 15, 2010


by Mike Breen

After seeing three acts use and abuse electronics, I decided to go for something completely different and headed down Main Street to Mr. Pitiful’s for a set by Cincy’s Americana powerhouse Magnolia Mountain. The eight members crammed onto the Pitiful stage (which has some of the best sound of all the MPMF venues) but there was nothing cluttered about their elegant, accomplished Roots sound. It had a jamboree-like feel, with different members taking the lead throughout, kind of like "The Last Waltz" come back to life as one unified band. It’s hard not to fall for Magnolia Mountain’s sweet, eclectic Americana sound — they play with a joyfulness that is infectious. Smiles abounded on the stage and throughout the crowd. - CityBeat - September 24, 2010


by Lisa Witte

As mountaintop removal becomes a hotter subject, one Cincinnatian's eight-month labor of love has culminated into a 21-track album featuring local bands trying to save Appalachia.

Music for the Mountains is an album for the mountains. Mark Utley's eight-month labor of love to stop mountaintop removal.

Utley, front man of Cincinnati's own Americana and folk band Magnolia Mountain, put together Southgate House's Saturday night benefit to give back to the Appalachian Mountains with a 21-track album featuring bands from Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia.

A three-pronged benefit movement to end mountaintop removal, Utley and others have produced the record, scheduled a double movie screening at the University of Cincinnati's MainStreet Cinema of "Low Coal" and "Coal Country" and a put on the music festival at the Southgate House.

All proceeds of the album and activities are split equally between Ohio Citizen Action and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth in an effort to stop mountaintop removal.

Mountaintop removal is a practice in which the tops of mountains are detonated for strip mining, producing 5 percent of the nation's coal annually.

Jeff Biggers, a speaker at the event and author of several books concerning Appalachia, was adamant about bringing an end to the environmentally damaging act of mountaintop removal by the end of this year.

Following Biggers, Melissa English from Ohio Citizen Action and Ben Baker of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth delivered speeches on the effects of mountaintop removal, as well as information on the upcoming "I Love Mountains" protest event in Frankfort, Ky., scheduled for Monday.

More than 20 local musical acts played original and traditional Appalachian songs to support the end of mountaintop removal. Highlights of the night's music included Americana acts like Magnolia Mountain, Browngrass and Wildflowers and The Tillers. Joe and Kelly Kneiser, Janet Pressley and Kim Taylor won over the audience with their songwriting and stripped-down acoustic performances. Rabbit Hash String Band also really brought home the true sound of the mountains with their raw bluegrass feel.

In the ballroom, The Lucy Becker Trio filled in for Duquette Johnston, capturing the audience's imagination with magnificent mandolin and fiddle vamping. There were also the evening's stylistic oddballs, The Frankl Project and Frontier Folk Nebraska, bringing a more rock-influenced sound to the stage.

The show not only sold out the Southgate House, but the musicians raised more than $11,000 to be split between the two charities.

People of all ages and backgrounds came to support the cause, sharing the love of music and the mountains.. - The News-Record - February 13, 2011


by Donny Kutzbach

It’s no small feat for a band to pull off a balance of artful depth, skill, and un-self-consciousness. It’s even more impressive when we are talking specifically about a band from Cincinnati pulling off genuine country music. Magnolia Mountain does it, proving they’re the real deal. Borrowing from the past and spinning it with refreshing originality, the band has crafted a double album (available as a digital download, compact disc, and 2-LP vinyl) of spirited, refreshingly warm and genuine Americana that dips deep into country waters, treads hilly bluegrass paths, and brushes the back streets of folk traditions.

With a regular lineup of eight but bolstered by a rotating cast of nine extras for this record, Magnolia Mountain is a big band (pedal steel, mandolin, organ, harmony singers) that shows decided restraint and poised power. Led by singer/guitarist Mark Utley—who wrote most of Redbird Green’s 16 tracks, barring just a few like the stripped, meditative, and bluesy cover of Hank Williams’ “Long Gone Lonesome Blues”—the band proffers a brand of country taste with just enough real spirit and rawness tempered by the innate ability to know when to lay back.

Another major strength is Magnolia Mountain’s flawlessl execution of stylistic hairpin turns: Take “Reconsider (Please Don’t Go),” a burner that ably leans on the kind of Stax-style, country-informed, Southern soul that will likely have you swearing it must be a cover from an old 45. Immediately following is the powerful “One Day More (For the Mountains),” which is another original—co-written with West Virginia singer/songwriter/activist Elaine Purkey—that sounds again like an old, dusty record, but this time an old protest ballad. Utley can tell a story, too. The dark themes of rustbelt despair in Redbird Green’s title track sounds like something straight from Springsteen’s The River.

All in all, this is an album that exhibits how great American roots music can be…so long as it isn’t afraid to dig in to all those different roots in the ground. Fans of the Flying Burrito Brothers, the Band, Gillian Welch, and Steve Earle will find plenty to love in Magnolia Mountain. - ArtVoice - August 25, 2010


by Jeremy Searle

There can be few bands as eclectic as Cincinnati eight piece Magnolia Mountain, and fewer still who can actually deliver on such a wide range of styles. Available as a single CD or double vinyl album, it fuses influences from across the entire palette of American roots, bluegrass, folk and traditional music and adds in some nice harmonies to make an impressively listenable album that pretty much serves as an encapsulation of where Americana is today, at least the more traditional end of the spectrum.

Leader and songwriter Mark Utley is a mean hand with the words too, with the title track sitting firmly in blue collar Springsteen state-of-nation territory and, while it lacks the power of James McMurtry’s “We Can’t Make It Here” it compensates with a deeply personal resonance and hope, even if only a sliver of it. It’s by no means an isolated example either and this, combined with lashings of soul (check out “Reconsider (Please Don’t Go)”) make this a superior set. It lacks a single killer song or pin your ears back moment but it good and solid all the way through, and there are few double albums of which that can be said.

Rating: 7 out of 10 - AmericanaUK - January 4, 2011


As millions of pounds of explosives from mountaintop removal strip mining operations continue to devastate historic mountain communities in central Appalachia, a powerful new music video released this week by the beloved American Roots band Magnolia Mountain captures the haunting grief and stories of stricken families in America's cradle of roots and country music.

Driven by Mark Utley's banjo licks and Magnolia Mountain's effortlessly haunting and plaintive harmonies, "The Hand of Man" joins the pantheon of classic mountain ballads and mining tunes, including Kentucky legend Jean Ritchie's "Black Waters" and John Prine's timeless paean to his family's demise in western Kentucky to Peabody coal, "Paradise," and 2/3 Goat's recent metrobilly hit, "Stream of Conscience."

One of the most popular urban Appalachian bands today, the Cincinnati-based Magnolia Mountain has won a dedicated and growing fan base across the nation as one of the hardest-working, bone-shaking, and original bluegrass, folk, and blues bands on the American Roots circuit.

Thanks to Utley and fellow artists like Melissa English, Magnolia Mountain is also one of the most committed bands in the Appalachian and Ohio River heartland: Joining the tireless work of Grammy star Kathy Mattea, among many others, "The Hand of Man" is part of the compilation CD and music festival benefit, "Music for the Mountains," that Utley and Magnolia Mountain organized over the past year for various grassroots activists defending mining communities against mountaintop removal operations.

"The Hand of Man" takes the listener to White Star Holler in Kentucky, where seven generations of mountain families have struggled to defend their lives and livelihoods from the toxic fallout from coal company destruction. - The Huffington Post - February 20, 2012


Magnolia Mountain bandleader Mark Utley adds his distinctive voice and songwriting skills to a tangle of varying Roots music stylings, coming out the other end with an incredibly rich and stirring strain of Folk, Country Blues and a variety of Americana shapes and sizes, all gorgeously performed by a collection of some of the best young and established musicians in the Cincinnati area. The music of MM is written and arranged by Utley with heart-driven grace and an intuitive understanding of tradition, something that doesn't just stop with the sound. Utley and the band have been heavily involved in raising public awareness about the serious environmental and health issues many beiieve result from mountaintop removal coal mining. Utley's work on the benefit album Music for the Mountains, as well as a swell of other grassroots activities, actually had tangible results as the topic is now front-page news and opinion polls show most think the controversial methods should be stopped. Working together to right wrongs - just another part of Magnolia Mountain's call-back/look-forward take on Folk music tradition.

DIG: Bob Dylan, Hank Williams, and other key architects with a hand in drafting the blueprints of American Roots music. - CityBeat - September 7, 2011


Mountain Songs
by Mike Breen

Though known for a wide-range of musical styles, Greater Cincinnati has always had an especially strong Americana/ Roots music scene, as evidenced each year by the stacked lineup at the annual Rivertown Breakdown showcase. With the release of Nothing As It Was, Mark Utley and his band Magnolia Mountain should instantly jump to the top of any list of Cincinnati’s best Roots practitioners.

Nothing As It Was — to be released in conjunction with a MM show Saturday at the Southgate House with guests The Tillers and Kim Taylor — is 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, an 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.

The “Roots” being spread around on Nothing are widereaching — “Irish Maggie” strides and jigs like a vintage Celtic Folk song, while the highlight, “Out of My Mind,” has the sad, earnest feel of a great George Jones love lament.

Most startling and appealing is when Utley and Co. create something that transcends any genre. “Murder on My Soul,” while perhaps designed with “murder ballad” intent, is a hovering, spooky slice of ethereal soul-searching that recalls the ghostly Indie Folk of artist like Midlake and Fleet Foxes.

Nothing As It Was announces Mark Utley as one of the finest songwriters in the area. He and the amazing band he’s assembled have a knack for crafting something that is both traditional and refreshing. Fans of Roots music old and new will find Magnolia Mountain’s latest one of the more enchanting albums they’ll hear all year. - CityBeat - February 18, 2009


Green Man Review - April 2, 2009

Magnolia Mountain - Nothing As It Was
Reviewed by Gary Whitehouse

Mark Utley, a former rocker from Cincinnati, has gone rootsy with his current band, Magnolia Mountain. Their debut disc Nothing As It Was is a warm, likeable collection of Americana that combines country, folk and bluegrass sounds.

This is heartland music at its best, expressed in honest lyrics and solid musicianship. Utley sings the lead vocals in an approachable baritone, and he's backed by a big group of musicians on mostly acoustic instruments, with a touches of electric guitar, Hawaiian steel guitar and organ.

Full disclosure: I'm acquainted with Utley from an online music-related community we both belong to. But I wouldn't say that I liked his music unless I really liked it, and I do.

In his bio on the Magnolia Mountain Web site Utley says he didn't used to think very highly of his rural roots. "But like many others, age and experience (particularly the experience of raising children) have given me a different vantage point on life. These days I am more interested in who I am than in who I am not. I have actively sought out my roots, from my ancestors in Ireland, Scotland, and England, through their time in Appalachia and out into the farms, towns, and cities of the midwest and the south, and I have found a sense of pride, humility and grounding there."

Those Celtic and Appalachian roots find their expression particularly in the third song here, "Irish Maggie." It kicks off with a sweet fiddle intro, very Irish-Appalachian sounding; some accordion is added and some mandolin, then the tempo picks up a bit, the dobro kicks in and it's a full-blown country song, but still with that Irish lilt as befits the subject matter.

Throughout, the instrumentation, arrangements and tempo fit the subject matter in like manner. "Nora Mae" is a mid-tempo song with brushed snares from Matt Frazer, more dobro from Rockne Riddlebargber, and a touch of electric guitar from Jordan Neff, who elsewhere contributes accordion and other keyboards. "A Little South of Birmingham" is even more up-tempo, with a railroad shuffle beat and lovely harmony vocals from Melissa English.

This kind of music used to be called country & western, and it's songs like "Beautiful Mirage" and "Murder on My Soul" with their Hawaiian steel, harmonica and such that could still be called that. "Little Wildflower" is a bluegrass-style love song with a beautiful multi-part harmony vocal introduction; "Autumn Rose" is a jaunty, bluesy swinging country song; "Out of My Mind" is a slow honky-tonk weeper with piano and fiddle; and "Annelise" tugs at the heart strings with Appalachian-style harmonies before it turns into a country-rocker complete with organ from Neff -- it's one of those "devil woman" songs in which the fellow is telling her to leave him alone but doesn't really mean it.

Mostly these are sweet love songs of the country kind, and they tend toward understatement. Local independent musicians like this deserve all the support we can give them these days. I encourage you to go on over to Magnolia Mountain's Web site and listen to the song samples, then consider purchasing directly from the artist. You'll also find it on iTunes and CDBaby. - Green Man Review


Americana U.K. - July 31, 2009

Magnolia Mountain - Nothing As It Was
Reviewed by Maurice Hope

Music of the Appalachian hills flavoured with a slice or two of urban folk, plus a nod towards their forebears from the other side of the Atlantic

Fronted by lead vocalist Mark Utley, Cincinnati, Ohio based Magnolia Mountain is a seven-piece mainly acoustic band that keep it simple, and at the same time, innovative.

On merging country, folk, Celtic and bluegrass into their music —the entertainment is never finer than when, after a brief acappella beginning they deliver ‘Little Wildflower’. A superb country offering possessing fine electric lead guitar and Dobro, Utley not only shines on lead vocals but the pickers play with a great freedom as they likewise do on the dobro (Rockne Riddlebarger) fired ‘A Little South Of Birmingham’ and ‘Nora Mae’ — that speaks of separated love and how the lure of Dixie holds strong.

‘Irish Maggie’ pretty much speaks for itself, and with mandolin, fiddle (best heard on the soul searching intro), Hammond organ and Dobro put to good use the music transcends America and Ireland. Prompted by a chugging rhythm, Utley and Co are in unstoppable form.

[T]he album regains impetus on ‘Autumn Rose’. Warmed in lead guitar, mandolin and a fine shuffling rhythm, seamless vocal harmonies and a sprinkling banjo it finds MM near their best.

‘Annelise’ takes the listener down into the southern states, Louisiana maybe —such the moody presentation and impressive vocal assists from Melissa English. - Americana UK



BY C.A. MacConnell

When I arrive, songster/guitarist Mark Utley is M.I.A. Actually, he's upstairs tucking one child in bed. As a rule, youngsters aren't drawn to me. Frequently, when I hold babies, they twitch, then cry. But when they do like me, they really like me, tugging me, hugging me. Such is the case when I meet another of Utley's girls. In the den, she gazes doe-eyed, her smiley face trapped in that famous curious "kid look."

Then Utley appears, giving her a bear hug, sending her on her sleepy way. Sinking into the crimson couch, he explains that he's a family man with four children at home. Laughing, he says, "I'll sleep when I'm dead."

When he talks, smile lines, those telling creases, form on the sides of his eyes. His manner is that of a thoughtful man, and beneath that depth rests an obvious vast knowledge of music. He says, "I was pretty much always writing songs from early on."

Originally from Evansville, Ind., Utley is a Rock veteran. In 1979, he joined the band presently named Matinee Idol. Utley says, "They were alarmingly good ... they played what I would consider the best of the '60s and '70s stuff."

Think of The Who and The Clash.

Perhaps Utley is most well known for his work with Stop the Car, an amazing, progressive "graveyard" Garage band that introduced Alternative music to the scene before the label "Alternative" even existed. Ahead of its time, STC was a largely successful '80s band with a cult following still alive today.

But the rowdy, artistic drive behind STC was something that Utley reconsidered over time.

"Stop the Car was informed by Goth bands and Alternative bands, and there was a certain pretense to it," he says. "That, combined with the theatrics of it, created a divide between us and the audience."

In 1992, Utley moved to Cincinnati, bringing with him the desire for musical change.

"Basically I wanted more of an outlet for songwriting," he says.

By 1994, Utley formed Pale Halo, a band with influences as diverse as early Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance and Portishead, while still joining STC for yearly reunion gigs.

After the 2005 reunion, Utley says, "I got the bug again. But when I came back, there was no outlet for me to play that loud, electric, amplified music." Through time, he was "struck by the warmth and the human element in acoustic music ... communal thing where people can join in and be a part of it."

His Dad was heavily into Country and Utley absorbed the sound by default. Early on, he disliked the style but later revisited songwriters like Merle Haggard, Patsy Cline, Hank Williams Sr. and Johnny Cash. Embracing Roots, Utley studied Celtic, African-American and a stew of historical, culture-thick music.

"In that old music, there's a real humanity, a warmth and the heart that is missing so much from today's music," he says. "It comes from a time when there wasn't a music industry -- it was more of a cultural community or family thing. Songs would mutate over generations; it was the way people kept their stories alive. When you can tap into that, it's pretty exciting."

With that in mind, Magnolia Mountain formed in 2006, including Utley on vocals and acoustic guitar, Rockne Riddlebarger (lap steel), Bob Lese (mandolin, harmonica), Jordan Neff (electric guitar, accordion, piano), Bob Donisi (upright bass) and Matt Frazer (drums, percussion). Creating a sound mix of Folk, Americana and Country, Utley says, "It all came together kind of organically."

He pauses. Peacefully, directly, he says, "It's a big confidence boost as a songwriter that guys that have these kinda chops are interested in playing my songs. It makes me feel like I'm on the right track. It's fun, we enjoy it and it's a great outlet. With that attitude, it grows on its own."

From Alternative Rock to heart, Utley continues his career, and when his oldest daughter enters the room, he leans back on the couch, listening to her voice, tuning in. - CityBeat - November 14, 2007


CityBeat - September 25, 2008

MidPoint Music Festival: Thursday Sept. 25
Previews of all the acts, plus CityBeat critics pick the highlights
BY Mike Breen

11 p.m. Magnolia Mountain (Cincinnati)
Americana
Led by singer/songwriter Mark Utley (formerly of AltRock bands like Stop the Car and Pale Halo), Magnolia Mountain came to be when Mark decided to dig back into music with a different, more acoustic-based approach. The result is Magnolia Mountain’s magical Country Folk, delivered with an elegant energy and intimacy and an almost hovering effect.
Dig It: Gram Parsons and Johnny Cash jammin’ on a cloud. - CityBeat - September 25, 2008


BuyCincy.com - September 25, 2008

Magnolia Mountain at Arnold's
We kick off our live MidPoint Music Festival coverage
by Sean Fisher

It's nights like this that make you love Arnold's. Good bluegrass music, a nice fall breeze, and delicious Christian Moerlein.

Magnolia Mountain is up now. I'm really digging their set, which has touches of blues, folk, and a good dash of roots bluegrass. Best of all, they feature both a slide guitar and an accordion. You just can't beat the accordion/slide guitar combo for a chill Thursday night.

Arnold's courtyard is one of our favorite places to hear live music and we could think of no better place to kick off what we hope to be a very successful Midpoint weekend. - BuyCincy.com - September 25, 2008



BY C.A. MacConnell

When I arrive, songster/guitarist Mark Utley is M.I.A. Actually, he's upstairs tucking one child in bed. As a rule, youngsters aren't drawn to me. Frequently, when I hold babies, they twitch, then cry. But when they do like me, they really like me, tugging me, hugging me. Such is the case when I meet another of Utley's girls. In the den, she gazes doe-eyed, her smiley face trapped in that famous curious "kid look."

Then Utley appears, giving her a bear hug, sending her on her sleepy way. Sinking into the crimson couch, he explains that he's a family man with four children at home. Laughing, he says, "I'll sleep when I'm dead."

When he talks, smile lines, those telling creases, form on the sides of his eyes. His manner is that of a thoughtful man, and beneath that depth rests an obvious vast knowledge of music. He says, "I was pretty much always writing songs from early on."

Originally from Evansville, Ind., Utley is a Rock veteran. In 1979, he joined the band presently named Matinee Idol. Utley says, "They were alarmingly good ... they played what I would consider the best of the '60s and '70s stuff."

Think of The Who and The Clash.

Perhaps Utley is most well known for his work with Stop the Car, an amazing, progressive "graveyard" Garage band that introduced Alternative music to the scene before the label "Alternative" even existed. Ahead of its time, STC was a largely successful '80s band with a cult following still alive today.

But the rowdy, artistic drive behind STC was something that Utley reconsidered over time.

"Stop the Car was informed by Goth bands and Alternative bands, and there was a certain pretense to it," he says. "That, combined with the theatrics of it, created a divide between us and the audience."

In 1992, Utley moved to Cincinnati, bringing with him the desire for musical change.

"Basically I wanted more of an outlet for songwriting," he says.

By 1994, Utley formed Pale Halo, a band with influences as diverse as early Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance and Portishead, while still joining STC for yearly reunion gigs.

After the 2005 reunion, Utley says, "I got the bug again. But when I came back, there was no outlet for me to play that loud, electric, amplified music." Through time, he was "struck by the warmth and the human element in acoustic music ... communal thing where people can join in and be a part of it."

His Dad was heavily into Country and Utley absorbed the sound by default. Early on, he disliked the style but later revisited songwriters like Merle Haggard, Patsy Cline, Hank Williams Sr. and Johnny Cash. Embracing Roots, Utley studied Celtic, African-American and a stew of historical, culture-thick music.

"In that old music, there's a real humanity, a warmth and the heart that is missing so much from today's music," he says. "It comes from a time when there wasn't a music industry -- it was more of a cultural community or family thing. Songs would mutate over generations; it was the way people kept their stories alive. When you can tap into that, it's pretty exciting."

With that in mind, Magnolia Mountain formed in 2006, including Utley on vocals and acoustic guitar, Rockne Riddlebarger (lap steel), Bob Lese (mandolin, harmonica), Jordan Neff (electric guitar, accordion, piano), Bob Donisi (upright bass) and Matt Frazer (drums, percussion). Creating a sound mix of Folk, Americana and Country, Utley says, "It all came together kind of organically."

He pauses. Peacefully, directly, he says, "It's a big confidence boost as a songwriter that guys that have these kinda chops are interested in playing my songs. It makes me feel like I'm on the right track. It's fun, we enjoy it and it's a great outlet. With that attitude, it grows on its own."

From Alternative Rock to heart, Utley continues his career, and when his oldest daughter enters the room, he leans back on the couch, listening to her voice, tuning in. - CityBeat - November 14, 2007


CityBeat - November 18, 2008

2008 CEA Music Nominees

MARK UTLEY AND MAGNOLIA MOUNTAIN: Rock veteran Utley switches gears with Magnolia Mountain, a graceful, skillful Americana powerhouse. - CityBeat - November 18, 2008


CityBeat - November 18, 2008

2008 CEA Music Nominees

MARK UTLEY AND MAGNOLIA MOUNTAIN: Rock veteran Utley switches gears with Magnolia Mountain, a graceful, skillful Americana powerhouse. - CityBeat - November 18, 2008


Discography

"Beloved" (album) released 2013. Produced by John Curley and Mark Utley at Ultrasuede Studio in Cincinnati, Ohio. "Beloved" is available on compact disc and vinyl LP.

"Four Chords and a Lie" (Mark Utley solo album) released 2013. Produced by Mike Ingram and Mark Utley at Thermal Airship Productions in Cincinnati, Ohio. "Four Chords and a Lie" is available on compact disc and vinyl LP.

"Town and Country" (album) released 2012. Produced by John Curley and Mark Utley at Ultrasuede Studio in Cincinnati, Ohio. "Town and Country" is available on compact disc or on vinyl as a double album.

"Redbird Green" (album) released 2010. Produced by John Curley and Mark Utley at Ultrasuede Studio in Cincinnati, Ohio. "Redbird Green" is available on compact disc or on vinyl as a double album.

"Nothing As It Was" (album) released 2009. Produced by John Curley and Mark Utley at Ultrasuede Studio in Cincinnati, Ohio. "Nothing As It Was" is available on compact disc or vinyl LP.

Several tracks from these albums are heard regularly on 89.7 WNKU-FM.

Photos

Bio

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), were simultaneously released on July 27, 2013.

Band Members