‘Moonbaby,’ by Siobhan Magnus, album review

I expect future broadcasts of VH1 will feature, “Where Are They Now? Virtually Every American Idol Contestant.” I’m not sure any television show as regularly milks and dashes so many dreams in a single season.

Every year, from late winter through spring, Americans huddle around their television sets watching auditions–some promising, some painful–on their way to voting for the one “American Idol.” Sadly for most, including most of the winners, they experience more idle than idol after their season in the sun.

We haven’t watched every moment of every season, but really paid a lot of attention the year Melinda Doolittle, the former back-up singer, captivated so many hearts. Again, during Season 9, members of our family thought two particularly stood out: the bluesy, singer guitarist, Casey James and the tattooed, Cape Cod glass blower, Siobhan Magnus.

Maddeningly, Season 9 not only found a number of talented singers, it also found perhaps the most dysfunctional judges panel throughout all the years of AI. So much conflicting advice was given to each contestant most viewers had long figured out that ignoring the judges might not lead to victory, but it would assure sanity.

Siobhan MagnusNowhere was this more in evidence than the quirky dressing, vocal powerhouse Siobhan Magnus.

In January of this year Magnus released her rookie project, Moonbaby, on her own label, Snotface Records. (You expected less?) It is a collection of 11 songs, ten of which were co-written by Magnus. The last entry is a fine power-ballad style cover of Prince’s, “Nothing Compares 2 U.”

Lyrically, it seems clear throughout Moonbaby that Siobhan Magnus is exercising other people’s demons more than her own. There are a number of references to people being mistreated due to not fitting into cultural or peer molds (there may be some errors in my transcriptions as I cannot find the lyrics online anywhere). In “Pure Inspiration” she sings

Remember all those times in class
it started in the sixth grade.
All the things thrown at my head, I walked down the halls in shame.
When I tried to be myself, they shouted, “It’s not Halloween.”
But they were just projecting their fears all over me.
Where did they learn to be so mean?

And in the first release from the project, “Black Doll,” she notes her own uniqueness

When you draw me, there’s a hole where my heart should be,
And I can take my crayons and color it red,
Decorate the monster underneath my bed
with flowers and pearls and pretty things,
but that’s not me.
You know me, that’s not me.
When people saw me, all they saw was strange.

(I always felt it was her refusal to bow before the AI machine that sealed her fate and drew those contradictory criticisms from the judges, most notably the uber-grouch, Simon Cowell.)

Moonbaby is not all about teenage angst and making it through high school being mocked or harassed. There are three songs that could go into immediate radio rotation if the right people were paying attention. Given the opportunity “Escape Goat” could be the “I Will Survive” of the 2010’s. Switching between the “Ah-hahs” of a lilting pop song, and the growling vocals of an irritated lioness, Magnus wrests her emotional freedom from a former beau:

In my Utopia
my good intentions would succeed
and they’d make the difference and stop hurting me.
Why’s it always gotta be bad news?
Or lookin’ for a buck or two?
You kept me from the truth with
All the things you never do.

And you’re losing power over me
And the walls of your castle are gonna start tumbling.
This illusion you living in I no longer believe
And I can’t fix you, so don’t you lay that on me.

I won’t be defeated twisted and beaten
You’ve got some kinda spell on me
And I can’t let it be,
But, I won’t let you, no I won’t let you, break me.

In the reflective song, “Eulogy,” Magnus notes the wounds and confusion of those left behind after a friend’s suicide:

Faces contort with shame, we are the remnants
of the choice you made that day.
Mother’s left behind, it is a crime.

The third is the hard driving, “Big Collapse,” during which she turns to the bigger picture behind the problems faced by everyone who has ever graced the planet. This song features the best rocking music on the project, with great lead vocals and strong backing vocals. It also has my favorite line where detractors are told

You can’t create or destroy me.

The existential issues raised here by Magnus are conversation worthy, and remnant of both the book of Job and the questions people have asked since the dawn of time:

The universe is caving in.
Don’t know where you end and I begin.
You found bottom, have no hope.
Come in and leave all alone.

If we’re all made of matter, what does it matter?
In an infinite world, I’m just another girl.
If we’re all made of the same matter,
what does it matter if I cry or laugh?
I’m not afraid of the big collapse.

Those who, like me, have problems shutting our brains down for any length of time will appreciate the reality expressed in vocally soaring, musically haunting “Always Thinking”:

Like bats in belfrys crying at my racing mind
how can I slow down the hurried hands of time?
It’s like a white blanket smothering me
sinking to the deepest of an endless sea.

and I’m always thinking how I don’t want to be like them
but I’m always worried I’ll find a wrong way to start thinking.

There are only two songs I do not particularly care for (“Pure Inspiration” and “Moonbaby”), but I confess I have not stopped listening to the entire album since I downloaded it on Friday.

Vocally this project is incredibly strong. Siobhan never had issues hitting notes, yet her hard rock screams on Moonbaby are few and always fit the song. In “Beatrice Dreams” she rips a primal, punk scream during one pass of the chorus, only to come right back with a R&B diva take on the same note. It’s quite brilliant. At various times she sounds country, rock, hard rocking, indy, blues and R&B, but she pulls all of it off fairly effortlessly. Some might feel it too broad an effort, but I feel it’s an effort to display the breadth of her talent.

By the time “Nothing Compares 2 U” closes the album, you can barely believe she can tone it down to such a pure, powerful vocal. But there it is with just the right amount of raspiness to interpret the emotion of the song.

This is a fine, fine effort. I hope Siobhan can get the airplay and concert schedule to support this release. She should not go the way of the other “Where Are They Now?” American Idol contestants.

Moonbaby, by Siobhan Magnus, was released January 1, 2012, on Snotface Records. Total playing time is 48:42. Below this killer acoustic performance of “Beatrice Dream” you can order Moonbaby.

Marty Duren

Just a guy writing some things.

  • kicker

    Siobhan, in Moonbaby you reveal heart felt emotions that come from life’s ups and downs. So many are forced to live their life for others while losing the true meaning of self. I have watched you stay true to yourself Siobhan and if you help only one person your journey will have been worth it !!
    ..Moonbaby.. “You can’t create or destroy me”…

  • boogfour

    Siobhan can sing anything! She is soooooooo good. This album has meaning and her vocals are quite extraordinary on each song. She’s not your run-of-the-mill pop singer. She’s smarter and better than that. These songs reach out to you with tremendous emotion and meaning. She has more than one message for us all in this album. I think Siobhan is poised for greatness!

  • Mike

    Thanks for your insightful thoughts on Siobhan’s ‘Moonbaby’. I’m a big fan myself. I also hope that it gets more exposure, but that’s tough for an indie artist who doesn’t turn out the same old, same old ‘pop’ stuff.

    The lyrics/liner notes are on her website (albeit a little hard to find):

    When this was first posted, I noticed one of your tweets mentioned that you would be interviewing her. Is that still going to happen? She’s supposed to be in Nashville in early August to rehearse for her upcoming show-winkwinknudgenudge. At any rate, I’m glad that I found out about your blog. I’ve enjoyed reading it the past few months.

    • Marty Duren

      Hey Mike,
      Thanks for your kind words.

      Unfortunately the interview never took place. I was working through Siobhan’s PR people who (I think) were working with her manager, but it never came through. I wish it had.