Magdalen Accepts the Invitation is the third album from husband and wife team Mark Olson (founder of The Jayhawks) and Norwegian singer/songwriter multi-instrumentalist Ingunn Ringvold, recording as they typically do in the isolation of the desert, not far from their desert home in Joshua Tree, California. Imaginations run wild here but much of it is based in real life experience, ranging from a roller coaster in a long-closed Minnetonka amusement park to a fossil collecting canoe trip to a deserted pizza joint in South Africa. These are past adventures for each and/or shared adventures as a couple.
It was a different approach for Olson who usually drives a track right through to end but found himself tampering with these several times to ensure everything fit the way he (they) wanted in their signature chamber folk-pop desert infused sound. The two play most of the instruments with contributions from just a few others on select tracks. Ringvold was proud to bring a unique arsenal of instruments including the Armenian Quanon, the Mellotron, and djembe drums while Olson not only plays guitars but also the dulcimer. All original tracks were done on a Nagra field recorder, which is a key to the unvarnished sound. Olson did analog engineering while she handled the digital. Award-winning producer John Schreiner did the mixing and mastering as he did for Spokeswoman of the Bright Sun.
Although Olson is ten or more albums removed from the Jayhawks at this point in his career, those qualities that stamped him there – unique tunings, two-part unison singing that dissolves into harmony, and an inherent gift for melody remain. Ringvold has a naturally beautiful voice, has released four solo albums on her own in addition to the three with Olson, and brings interesting string arrangements and a flair for unusual instrumentation. As with Spokeswoman of the Bright Sun. the music and vocal harmonies are eminently accessible, floating so gently and melodically. There’s an economy to the songs that seem to flow naturally to the next, almost like a classical piece. Let it flow like a travelogue, although overall sound stays in a languid, textured mode, almost as if belying the excitement of some of these journeys or the places themselves. Olson provided notes of each. We’ll give you a flavor for a few of them.
Pipestone I Won’t Be Back – Pipestone Minnesota is a town made of Sioux Quartzite buildings from the Catlinite Pipestone quarry location nearby. We visited the Pipestone National Monument on our way home from a tour one year and continued on a two-lane highway along the Niobrara River through north Nebraska where we canoed and collected fossils.
Excelsior Park – The old amusement park on Lake Minnetonka. It represents danger in some ways because of the scary high rollercoaster and the house of mirrors. My Dad was from a farm and this was not a place he was ever going to take us. If we wanted to go on rides it would be after a daylong excursion to the animal barns at the State Fair.
31 Patience Games – I wrote this in South Africa where Ingunn and I were married. We were there two separate times for six months total. We ended up in the mountains in the only hop-growing region of the country. It was foggy with lots of wild animals and streams and amazing people. It was really nice and sometimes we went to the beach. I saw the biggest crane in Africa flying over our cabin way up high in the air. So many memories. If there is a time of a person’s life that is the best — this was it for me.
Elmira’s Fountain – Here is a song Ingunn and I started in Vanadzor, Armenia about a real fountain where we would meet our host, Elmira. She would take us to Orthodox churches and cool parks. This song made the album because of the positive hopeful energy I feel about the lyrics and also the idea of drinking out of wild rivers. We would stop and drink from springs in the mountains but drinking from rivers would require another step on our part. We swam in Lake Sevon, which is very deep, cold and somewhat dangerous, but sinking in the sand by the water’s edge worked for us
The latter is one of the best songs for the vocal harmonies and its brisk tempo relative to the others. The context and stories behind the tunes in many cases, are more interesting than the songs themselves. The couple stayed with what they felt was a successful formula from the predecessor. So, if you liked that one, you’ll enjoy this as well. While this is clearly a relaxing listen, it’s often too dreamy-like, made a bit more interesting by trying to follow along with the lyrics which are in the jacket, which in true Olson fashion are a bit weird, but thankfully slightly more accessible (due to his notes on each song) this time.