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Mike Bruno & the Black Magic Family Band – In the Shade

Mike Bruno & the Black Magic Family Band – In the Shade

Written by: Sage
Artist: Mike Bruno & the Black Magic Family Band
Title: In the Shade
Label: Marmara Records
Cat. #: MAR001
Format: 7″

Genre: Psych Folk / Dark Folk / Experimental / Improv

Side A:
01) In the Shade
02) White Wands for Morgan

Side B:
01) The Woods of No Regret

We first had the chance to hear Mike Bruno with his solo incarnation just a few months back with his wonderful debut record on Texas-based label Haute Magie, “The Sad Sisters”.  This unique work featured dark acoustic folk with a slightly youthful/playful atmosphere, beautifully performed vocals with an old, creaky style, and some moderately impressive guitar work on top of that.  It became apparent with this first release that, rather than focusing on elaborate instrumentation, Bruno was more interested in the expert creation of atmosphere and story-telling.  For his follow-up release, this time on the brand new Texan label from Matthew Miller and Casey Cheek, Marmara Records, Mike Bruno returns with an ensemble of characters under their own moniker “The Black Magic Family Band”, heralding past dark folk ensembles such as Tony Wakeford’s l’Orchstre Noir and of course the wonderful group that took place with Larsen as “Friends” in their one-off performance.  Of course, this is quite a different situation as this group largely bases their music around improvisation and appears permanent with the opportunity for a revolving door, much like the Silvester Anfang group of dark free-folkers, whom in the end are a better comparison but still far away in terms of sound.  In this light, it should be said that Mike Bruno and company hold onto something special and genuine to their own collective.

Side A starts with the track “In the Shade” which, largely, is an extension of his work on “The Sad Sisters”.  The track follows the unique vocal style that was presented on that record as well as the mid-tempo guitar work and minimal percussion while continuing the deep, dusty production that inevitably creates an opiate-fueled vintage atmosphere — dreary and surreal as if walking through memory, walking through the shade.  “White Wands for Morgan” takes a different direction with a tripped-out experiment into the world of improvisational free folk.  Flute melodies chaotically yet harmoniously crash into one another, backed only by the docile, simple buzz of electronics.  These two separate worlds meet on side B’s “The Woods of No Regret” where improvisation still dictates the direction of the track, however, the additional instrumentation is pushed to the background as a mildly complex drone of various sound and various plucked instruments including the acoustic guitar takes the forefront, creating various minimal melodic lines that fall into place thanks to the help of a barely noticeable pulsing tempo.

“In the Shade” has been released as a limited 7″ in which 100 copies are clear and 150 are black.  The record has a 45-sized hole and comes packaged with two screen-printed cardboard stock sides and a small one-sided white insert.  The front cover features either a hooded demonic presence as seen through the eyes of a bad trip, or a mischievous character that could either be seen coming from something as human and simple as Halloween, or something as archaic as folk-tales and legend.  I’d vote for the latter given Bruno’s relative interests, but the sound on the record implies it could be any or all of the above.  The back print is a dark, static-ridden image of the forest.  Initially, the image is difficult to make out — which I assume is quite the point — and its murky texture lends another aesthetic quality towards Bruno’s unique style of fog-laden artistry.  Towards the heart of the forest, though, is a simple lantern light held by an unseen figure, no doubt chasing the ghosts of folklore through the endless labyrinth of trees that populate Bruno’s thoughts.  Of course, this could equally amount to a lost soul chasing his hallucinatory demons into the forest.  Whether you take the psychedelic perception or the folklore one — or both for that matter — will completely depend on your personal tastes.  Regardless of those tastes though, there is something strangely satisfying about this record — the only exception of which being the same issue that plagues all seven-inches — that is, the duration.

Rating: 4/5