Magnolia, Canadian artist Megan Bonnell’s sophomore album, is powerful in its vulnerability. Each track plays like a vignette into the exciting, heart-breaking, and ground-shifting year Bonnell says inspired her to create the album. She tells CBC music that “Love came and went, and then came again, and my family found itself blessed by the birth of my beautiful sister’s first little girl. Things were changing. I wanted to move forward, but I didn’t want time to diminish history’s meaning.” And preserve history she does.
Opening track “Can’t Have You” is Bonnell’s first single off the album. Pining and full of fragile romanticism “Lay me down if I can’t have you” she croons breathily, her lyrics alternating between strong self-assurance and a warm vulnerability, as acoustic guitar and flute drawl into each other. “Anna” feels like the true opener in Magnolia. Starting off subtly with drums and shakers, Bonnell’s voice is greeted just in time with underlying bass guitar as she gives us a hint of what she’s capable of vocally. Drawing out her notes beautifully, we are suddenly swept up in a whirlwind of flutes, chimes, and striking acoustic guitar. “Anna” feels raw, vulnerable and dizzying. “I don’t want to leave this town” Bonnell repeats over and over in the chorus, the music heightening with every plea and falsetto. “Anna” is the first (but not the last) trace we get of Magnolia’s truly wild heart, which opens up more as the album progresses.
We feel Bonnell’s true power in “You Are the One”, a haunting and emotionally poignant song that acts as the album’s true moment of catharsis. It’s a nostalgic musical journey that culminates into a fiery build-up of electric guitar and pulsating drums.
Just when we think we have Bonnell’s story figured out she surprises us with her whimsicality in “Chameleon”. Clear jazz influence and jumpy piano make it a welcome anomaly. “Chameleon” plays like a funky “fuck you” to a lover who can’t seem to get his act together. “Somebody’s gotta’ get through to you my darlin’, before you do yourself in” she warns. It’s edgy, playful, and proves that there really are more sides to Bonnell than we think.
Magnolia is an honest and dreamy experience full of Bonnell’s very own memories enveloped in warm-hearted acoustics and elegant woodwinds. But this endearing fragility should only be taken at face value. At the core of Magnolia is a striking and fiery center that most folk-inspired albums lack. A spine.
Kasandra Martinez is a copywriter/blogger from Toronto who loves writing and covering hip-hop songs on her ukulele.