Magpie Diaries ‘Sanctuary’ album review

Magpie Diaries is a band hailing from the Hunter region of NSW. Its well-crafted tunes could be loosely described as contemporary-country and blues-influenced-folk rock (stated influences include Grateful Dead, Neil Young and Van Morrison). They also bring other sensibilities, such as a fair whack of sax to the table on their debut album Sanctuary.

The band is fronted by Matt Johnston, a man nicknamed ‘Magpie’ who is its creative force. Johnston has done a lot for music in the Hunter being behind the Gum Ball Festival and other ventures. He has “hosted” the Gum Ball Festival “in his parent’s front yard since 2004”. Apparently he acquired the ‘Magpie’ tag due to “his nature of swooping in on anything that would potentially provide service to the festival site”. The festival has been a success and he is onto something positive with Magpie Diaries.

There is not a dud melody on the album and ‘Magpie’ has an engaging voice – a good fit for the genre. However, folk rock (or country, if you prefer) requires a level of lyrical profundity, or at least a point of difference, to lift it to the standard of the greats. Unfortunately, some of the lyrics on Sanctuary are not particularly inspired. 

When the album’s musical palette grows more diverse, the lyrics matter less as the delivery brings substance. The rocking Irresistible Pie springs to mind. It’s a fantastic song. The opening tracks Beat Myself Up and When Love Comes are also superior numbers. Wastin’ Time is the standout song on the album. It is a blues lament of the highest order – perfect for spinning on getting home after an oppressive day at work or a bad date. 

The sombre tone on much of the album and especially of Wastin’ Time is not surprising as the Magpie Diaries’ project grew out of a loss. The death of a close friend of Johnston’s led to a revisiting of his past and ultimately to the composition of new music and the release of the album.

Sanctuary is a sound debut and while a few of the middle tracks in particular are less than superlative, overall it is a fine long player and I definitely recommend checking them out on their upcoming tour.

Magpie Diaries Album Tour 2018-19

Dec 29-Jan 1 – Woodford Folk Festival (Sunshine Coast)
Thu 3 Jan – Nimbin Bush Theatre (Northern Rivers)
Thu 3 Jan – Byron Bay Brewery
Fri 4 Jan – Federal Hotel (Bellingen)
Sat 5 Jan – Flow Bar (Old Bar)
Fri 11 Jan – Brass Monkey (Sydney)
Sat 12 Jan – Sly Fox (Sydney)
Sun 13 Jan – Hardys Bay Club
Fri 18 Jan – Moonan Flat
19-20 Jan – Tamworth Hotel
Sun 20 Jan – Junkyard (Maitland)
Thu 24 Jan – Servo Food Truck (Wollongong)
Fri 25 Jan – Tomerong Hall (Jarvis Bay)
Sun 27 Jan – Quarterdeck (Narooma)
Thu 31 Jan – Stag And Hunter (Newcastle)
Thu 7 Feb – The Old Bar (Melbourne)
Sat 9 Feb – Bridge Hotel (Castlemaine)

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