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Slow down as you approach the gate, and have your change ready....
Street Level Friends_
Artist: Magnus Bodin
Label: Talking Music / Retroactive Records
Time: 13 tracks/ 44:38 min.
Sweden has given us its share of Christian rockers, going back as far as Edin-Adahl and Jerusalem in the eighties, to the enormously successful Blindside in 2005. Emerging musically from somewhere in that span of years is Magnus Bodin. Unfortunately, it's the edge of Edin-Adahl, the power of Jerusalem, and the passion of Blindside that Bodin's band seems to lack.
Bodin's sound is squarely rooted in the music of the sixties, drawing influences from sources as diverse as the Beatles, Neil Young, the Outlaws, Dylan, and Stephen Stills. While this is an impressive pool of talent from which to draw, Bodin never seems to establish a strong musical statement of his own. Although the band (Bodin on vocals, occasional guitars and harmonica, Paul Borjesson on bass, guitars and backing vocals, Henrik Nordenback on drums, Lars Ekberg and Peter Schyborger on keyboards) is competent most of the time, the production is pedestrian and unimaginative. Bodin's vocal style is not a strong or distinctive one, perhaps explaining why his vocals are always double-tracked, resulting in an overall sameness to the sound of the 13 tracks. Instruments are often recorded deep and "muddy" in the mix, even during solos, when they should be crisp and up-front. . . this is unfortunate, since there are a couple of nice piano and guitar solos that deserve better treatment throughout the album. It seems to take the entire length of the CD to begin to get into a real rock & roll groove on the last track. It left me wishing that they had started at that level and built a stronger album from that foundation.
Although there's the occasional awkwardness about the Swedish-to-English lyrics, it's hard not to like what Bodin has to say. There's the tendency to get a little "hippy-happy" with his lyrics, which often talk about green grass, flowers, smiles and sun-shine, but then again, there are occasional snatches of clever insight: "I was a dreamer 'till you came my way, then my dream came true" pulls us right out of that trippy, smiley-face world and causes us to realize that we, as Christians, have awakened from the dream-state that so many so-called visionaries fall prey to. In another song Bodin asks "Will you still love me if I scream in church?" and asks, "where's the love that's more than words?" The bulk of the lyrical content, however, stays very safe and tends to reminds us of all of the local bands that ever played at the church youth group's coffee house in the seventies.
Magnus Bodin seems so sincere, so _nice_ (certainly a much nicer guy that this reviewer!) that you want to really like this album. . . gee, he even uses the word "friends" in the title! One song (one of the better ones, by the way) even recalls his days at Jesus People USA, home of the Rez Band, where he worked with Chicago's street people. He seems to be such a nice guy! The problem is, that this album is--well, just nice. . . but not very impressive. There's at least one guitar solo that goes awry and should've been fixed. There's a keyboard solo that sounds like it was played on a cell phone--in other words, this project is just pretty good, and it should have been. . . could have been. . . better.
If you like your rock & roll leaning towards country, if you want a collection of pleasant, if not challenging, sixties-sounding songs and you're not too picky about production values--this might be for you.
Maybe next time, Magnus.
Bert Saraco 1/8/2006