Since their inception in 1969 British outfit Magna Carta have successfully been bridging the gap between folk and rock. Over the course of their forty + year career they've amassed a vast catalogue of thirty five albums that includes Seasons (1970), Lord Of the Ages (1973) and No Truth In The Rumour (1979) to name but a few. Though the band has pretty much always been a revolving cast of musicians, the one constant over the years has been founding member Chris Simpson (vocals, guitars).
Originally released back in 1982 Midnight Blue was a concerted effort by the band to move in a more commercial sounding direction. Available on CD since the late 90's on a couple of different labels, Angel Air Records in the U.K. have now decided to reissue the album as a two disc set. Overseen by Simpson and re-mastered by Dave Aston the first disc contains the complete album plus a slew of bonus tracks and outtakes, while the second is a collection of live recordings from 1971 to 2007.
What stands out most about Midnight Blue, in addition to the stellar sounding production job and of course the performances of the musicians themselves, is the staggering amount of depth found within these wide ranging compositions. Part of this is due to the fact that the band had three extremely capable vocalists, so the songs here all have a unique quality to them. In addition to Simpson the other vocal contributors are George Norris (acoustic guitar), Doug Morter (guitars) and Kate Robbins who duets with Morter on "Wind On The Water" and graces the track with her powerful, wailing voice. The band's laid back sound is certainly reminiscent of Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span, and yet wrapped within these gorgeous melodies and soaring vocal harmonies is a sound all their own. There's at least a half a dozen hit singles awaiting the listener as the aforementioned "Wind On The Water", along with the infectious, velvety smooth, soft rock sway of "Natural Lovin' Man", "Have A Nice Day", "Written In the Wind" and the lovely exotic, marimba and island drum grooves of "Strangers In The Land Of Ulysses should still be deeply ingrained in your mind long after they've played themselves out. The whole disc is one great big highlight but other tracks worthy of mention include "Slowbone Jones", "Cajun Cannonball", "Danny", "Little Bit Of My Heart" and "Highway To Spain". What also makes this such a special listening experience is that although some of the extra tracks weren't recorded during the same time period as the album sessions, you'd never know it as it's all tied together seamlessly. "Strangers In The Land Of Ulysses was cut in 1978, while the other songs, featuring Chris' wife Linda on lead and harmony vocals, were done in 1987, 1996 and 2000 respectively.
If there was ever any doubt regarding the underlying versatile nature of Midnight Blue then the second disc of live material should definitely put an end to any skepticism. Now the title of second disc Live And Let Live (1971-2007) is a bit misleading. Sure it's live alright, however save for one track, the sizzling instrumental "Sponge", which features Simpson on acoustic guitar dueling it out with Davey Johnstone (a longtime member of Elton John's band) on mandolin, recorded back in '71, the rest was recorded between 1992-2007. Not to mention a good portion of it has been released before. Kudos though to Simpson for assembling a splendid sampling of live highlights that not only includes older tracks like "Airport Song" and "Slow Train", but also features a stirring interpretation of Bob Dylan's "Tommorow Is A Long Time", an instrumental run through of Merle Travis' "9lb Hammer" and a version of JJ Cale's "Call Me The Breeze", which contains some absolutely scorching acoustic solos from Simpson. If anything these performances prove that almost ten years into the new millennium, Magna Carta's music remains as vital as it was back in 1969.
This has to be one the best reissues yet from the Angel Air folks. There's just such a wealth of fabulous music for the listener to digest on these two discs. It's guaranteed to keep you coming back for more.
Disc One : Midnight Blue
1) Slowbone Jones
2) Natural Lovin' Man
3) It's So Easy
4) Have A Nice Day
5) Sting Of The Gin
6) Wind On The Water
7) Written On The Wind
8) Midnight Blue
10) I'll Walk Mine
11) Strangers In The Land Of Ulysses
12) Cajun Cannonball
13) Little Bit Of My Heart
14) Highway To Spain (Bonus Track)
15) When All Is Said And Done (Bonus Track)
16) For The Gypsy (Bonus Track)
17) Greenfields (Bonus Track)
18) Stop Bringing Me Down (Bonus Track)
>br>19) Everytime (Bonus Track)
Disc Two: Live & Let Live (Live 1971-2007)
1) Airport Song
3) Abalone Sky/ Banjo Man
4) Wind On The Water
5) Tomorrow Is A Long Time
6) 9lb Hammer
7) Sun Ain't Gonna Rise
8) Time For The Leaving
9) Call Me The Breeze
10) Only Road Home
11) Fields Of Eden
12) Slow Train To Nowhere