Americana-bluesman John Egan returns to his musical roots while paying homage to his hometown of Houston on Magnolia City (released April 7, 2017). The ten song, self-produced collection features Egan’s raw vocals, boot stomping rhythms, and highlights his fierce, signature National resonator guitar.
Magnolia City, Egan’s seventh album, is unlike previous releases which revolved around a full band and thick sounds like 2012’s Phantoms and 2014’s Amulet. On past recordings Egan experimented with his resonator finding different tones and textures. His approach on Magnolia City is spare and straightforward. "The last record was really dense," says Egan. "I've talked about doing something different for a while now. I just wanted it to be one guy playing, full of open space. I've done bigger and gnarlier. I wanted it to feel more like a house concert.”
The collection of songs on Magnolia City resonates with the sparest of formats while touching on themes related to the ethereal and the elusive. Egan’s cover of legendary Texas musician Townes Van Zandt’s “Marie,” is a tale about a drifter and his pregnant significant other traveling and looking for work. The dark, heart-breaking song still sadly resonates today -- more than 20 years after Van Zandt recorded it.
"Every time I play a gig downtown (Houston) and pass the mission on Prairie all these men and women are lined up there,” says Egan. “It's a terrible thing we've let happen. I think of that song every time I'm there. It's a tough one to sing because it's such an emotional and intense song. And if you don't go to that place with it, it's going to suck. That dynamic is really attractive: It's such a soft song but so heavy, too."
Egan also pulls two tracks from the Lightnin' Hopkins songbook, with "Once a Gambler" and "Mojo Hand." Both evoke a woe-struck solitary narrator - the former is more a cautionary tale of having and losing something, while the latter is rooted in hoodoo folklore. These song choices along with a rousing version of Bob Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm” work perfectly with Egan’s own tunes. “Looking for a Place to Fall,” and “Man I’ll Never Be” are lamenting tales of past and pain that show the masterfully skilled guitar player’s use of poetic lyrics and vintage resonator guitar sounds to create an expressive personal music.
Egan was born in Connecticut but moved to Houston as a child. His dad, also John Egan, had an 11-year career as a NBA point guard with the Houston Rockets. Egan’s passion for his city's past is reflected in the album title, as Houston was once referred to as the Magnolia City harkening back to a time where magnificent magnolia groves once stood before development and expansion took place.
Egan’s wide body of work which includes the lo-fi sonics of his 1995 debut The Gin Diaries, through the quiet introspection of Paperhalo (2001), to the electro stomp of Secret Religion (2006) documents the progression of an artistic life. His new album Magnolia City follows the notion of finding something new in something old. Often performing solo, Egan’s guitar style includes, in effect, playing bass, lead, and percussion, all at the same time. He says, “the rarefied air where Lightnin’ Hopkins met Townes Van Zandt serves as an inspiration and an ideal.”
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