Mighty Mage – Ancient Scrolls II – Album Review
“Oh my, how the world is changing. Oh my, how strange this all is now.”
Prescient. Man does that first line hit ya.
I got chills listening to the melody, music, and vocals of the very first cut on this record by Mighty Mage – Ancient Scrolls II starts out with a verifiable highlight in “Oh My (Acoustic),” and will eventually go on to bookend this album of past classics from Khalid Hussain’s catalog with an electric version at the end. Between the rich tones of the music & vocals, and the structure & melody to be found, there’s no way I could choose any one specific part as better than the others – there’s impeccable balance in this first track, and without question, a songwriter with a genuine gift at the heart of it all. I’ll put it to ya this way…aside from the occasional squeak of a fret-slide as he’s changing between notes on his acoustic, there’s nothing in “Oh My” that you’d remotely question. This voice! I can’t even begin to express the amount of genuine interest Mighty Mage generates from the microphone alone folks – I’m beyond impressed when it comes to the immaculate tone & sincerity “Oh My” possesses – and the more I had a chance to spin this record, the more I found myself falling in love with this first impression & gateway into Ancient Scrolls II. Quite honestly…I’m not sure what more an artist could do to pull me in this quick. Those thick & slick bass-lines are a perfect match for the golden-honey tones of Mighty Mage’s vocals; he sings this tune with a brilliant mix of questioning curiosity & insightful wisdom that is 100% spot on.
Being a melody-guy myself, I found moments like the transition into the chorus of “Time Of My Life” to be built of pure magic incarnate. Don’t get me wrong, I think you’ll find there’s a lot to love about the brightness & spirit you’ll find in the verses as well…but that chorus…that’s just purely gorgeous, that’s what that is. It’s the kind of melody infused with such impressive character & emotion, you’d think you’d find it on one of Beirut’s albums – and that’s high praise if you ask these two ears upon my head. Think I’m kidding? I’ll tell it to you as straight as I possibly can…I’m honestly not sure I’ve heard a more well-written moment in any other song I’ve heard this entire year – that’s how amazing this chorus is. To be fair to the verse, it plays a strong supporting role in setting up how the stunning shimmer of the melody in the chorus gets to rise out of the cleverness in transition, and arguably lyrically as well. You’ll read a few things in this review that’ll talk about how these are tunes from Khalid’s past works as this whole article progresses…suffice it to say for now that, “Time Of My Life” is absolutely the kind of song you never let go of. Not as a creator, not as a listener, not as a true lover of music & melody – once you discover a song like this, you never want it to ever leave the soundtrack of your life – and I have no plans to let it ever slip too far away from my own playlists, that I can tell ya. Purely remarkable, straight-up – “Time Of My Life” is humble, sweet, fun, sincere…a true smorgasbord of just about everything beautiful.
By the time you get to “On The Moon” you start to feel a sense of…like…’ohhhhhh – so this guy just continually cracks the bat for home-runs all day long?’ type-feeling – because this is spectacular. After everything you’ve already experienced in just three songs, it’s radiantly apparent that this dude has a true songwriter’s touch – this is exactly what writing that hits the mark sounds like. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that, a song like “On The Moon” reveals just how much he can accomplish with fairly bare-bones ingredients – Mighty Mage is the kind of artist that needs nothing more than a great idea & the talent he already has. Armed with those ingredients alone, I can guarantee he’ll find amazing ways to entertain ya. Because this VOICE y’all! I’m at the point where I’m hard-pressed to think of a better one – I love the way this guy sings. All-in-all, I think there’s a ton to dig on throughout “On The Moon” – lyrically, musically, vocally, writing-wise, harmonies…everything is right where you wanna find it, and it all sounds spectacularly gorgeous in its sweet creative spark & casual, natural allure. I think if anything, you’ve really gotta love a song like “On The Moon” for just how much it accomplishes with so little – that’s no kind of knock on the composition, it’s a compliment – this song has absolutely everything it needed & not an ounce more. That’s called professional control & self-restraint as an artist y’all – it’s the sign of a songwriter that understands what suits the song & refines the ingredients to perfection. The hooks are charming & vibrant, and the sentiment & lyricism are equally so – “On The Moon” contains a wonderfully inviting sound that has no problems whatsoever enticing your ears in to listen.
Yep. A song like “The Epic” has me nodding my head in complete confirmation – this album is basically a blueprint for the exact type of music I wish was always flowing through my speakers. And you know what? In the first couple moments of this tune, I wasn’t even sure I was going to like it half as much as I liked the initial three cuts…it seemed like only seconds later I was convinced “The Epic” would go on to supply one of the most memorable highlights on the whole album. I’ll say this…by comparison to a lot of the simple & sweet melodies you’ll find on Ancient Scrolls II, there’s no doubt that “The Epic” reaches for more & would be more demanding on those out there thinking they’re only in for songs they can sing along with…but for the rest of us seeking more out of the music we listen to, this is aces all around. I’ll put it to you this way…you’d likely be surprised at how much closer a song like “The Epic” brings Mighty Mage towards the acoustic-side of System Of A Down at times – it’s not all that far removed, at least until the brightness of the chorus starts to break through. I love the additional intensity that “The Epic” has, and I felt like the range of ideas on display & how much this song changes from its beginning to end justified the title of this tune completely…it is indeed, quite epic. Writing in a powerfully moving allegorical style that’s fantastically descriptive & thought-provoking with its imagery, Mighty Mage makes mighty good use of every moment throughout “The Epic” and not only shifts the direction of sound on Ancient Scrolls II, but blows open the doors of possibility & potential for where a song like this could travel to & reach. With a whole other dimension of sound on display yet again for what’s arguably the fourth consecutive song in a row, it’s clear Mighty Mage has a master’s grip on a variety of styles.
All that great stuff being said about “The Epic,” as I told ya earlier, I’m a melody-guy…and I know there’s a great chance I’m like many of you out there that would always have time for a gentler tune like “Searching For A Song” – which is laced with sublime sweetness from start to finish. The saxophone makes a couple appearances on this record, and each time it does it adds stunning personality & depth to the music on Ancient Scrolls II, and with the absolutely gorgeous backup vocals complementing the lead so perfectly on “Searching For A Song,” well…I mean…it’d be kinda hard to argue that Mighty Mage hasn’t found one here. I keep picturing a Mighty Mage having finished this song already, and yet still walking around the desert for miles afterwards, searching for one missing chord or a xylophone part to add in…like – he knows everything he needs is right here in this tune already right? What a stunning pair of vocalists in the tune! “Searching For A Song” has perfectly written & performed parts, executed with heart, emotion, and beautifully endearing expression; it’s another shining example of how most often the simplest ingredients make the biggest impact on our hearts & minds. Writing a song about writing a song is a cute & clever twist that I adored as well…it reminds me of my favorite movie, Adaptation, which is a movie about writing a movie about a book about flowers. When life tries to throw you that curveball & stump you with your own creativity & art – this is how you throw it back with confidence, turn those notorious lemons into lemonade, and discover a catchy cut in the process.
“Dragon – Fly” is a bit looser than the rest, more up-tempo than what we’ve experienced for the most part on Ancient Scrolls II, and it’s almost bizarre to think that with as much energy as this song has, I’d reckon it’ll have a harder time standing out compared to the rest of this stellar lineup, even with as low-key & subtly charming as many of these tunes tend to be. I’m not fully opposed to its inclusion on this record…it still sounds like Mighty Mage, and I’m always supportive of the idea of bringing multiple dimensions to a lineup of songs – but I’d be lyin’ to ya by omission if I didn’t say it’s the mellower side of this project that is hitting home the most with me personally. More than anything else, I respect the pursuit of art & trying several things with your music, no matter who ya are – and Mighty Mage is no exception to that rule. Some things work better than others, that’s the nature of life, and of course the nature of art & music just as much – “Dragon – Fly” has an energy that’s gonna stand out for sure, and you’ll find moments like the solo mid-song add in a highlight for the guitar in the instrumentation. In a way it kind of brings a strange smile to my face…”Dragon – Fly” is not a bad song by any stretch of the imagination – but in comparison to just how incredible the first five cuts on Ancient Scrolls II really ARE – I suppose I’d be a bit surprised if people felt quite as strongly attached to this tune, but maybe they will. As I remind ya all the time, I’m just one dude with two ears…where I hear one thing, someone else hears something completely different…for some of you out there, you’ll really dig the ambitious nature of this cut & how “Dragon – Fly” adds more depth & dimension to the style & sounds of the songs on this album. Mighty Mage is like an acoustically-based grunged-up Elvis on “Dragon – Fly” – it’s interesting.
The trap is a song like “My Love” – I mean…you’d have to have a heart of stone to lob some criticism at a dude that’s just out to sing about peace & love, wouldn’t ya? All us music-critics & reviewers are pretty much powerless when it comes to this tune…it’d be tough to take points away for the execution, which is absolutely as solid as any other track you’ll hear in this lineup…so it really just comes down to personal taste. If it’s any consolation, I naturally resist Bob Marley too…and he generally sings about the same great things…I can’t help it if it’s the more melancholy emotions & tones in music that grab my ears the most in this lifetime…maybe that’s genetic, I have no idea. But the point is – I’m no Grinch either and I ain’t here to steal your Christmas…”My Love” is a pleasant & comforting tune played with spirited energy and a whole lotta heart – there, I said it. Happy happy. Truthfully & all kidding aside, Mighty Mage has put in a ton of great details into the imagery of his lyricism here, and there’s excellent contrast in the words that’ll have you considering what it may or may-not be about, which I love. Maybe it’s about spreading joy & peace throughout the land far & wide as his horse will carry him – or maybe he’s out to make amends with someone he loves and right the wrongs of a past mistake he’s made – I couldn’t tell you 100% for certain myself, and I’m more than fine with that – I really dig songs with multiple meanings & interpretations…and for as unsuspecting & seemingly sweet as “My Love” can be…don’t forget, objects in the mirror are closer than they appear…deceptively so. What we think we might have seen so clearly before, could be something altogether different upon closer inspection.
When Mighty Mage steers things towards my own personal taste…some extraordinary combination that exists like, between Roy Orbison & Beirut like you’ll find on “Touch” and countless others on this record – I’m just relentlessly captivated by how amazing Mighty Mage’s songwriting, voc%E ls, and music can truly be. There’s not a moment of “Touch” I’d dare to change – I think the flow of the verses is spectacular, I think the chorus raises the stakes perfectly, and the inspired spark in the music, especially the percussion, never disappoints for a solitary moment. From the gorgeous piano playing gracefully in the mix, to the smoothness of the bass-lines & character of the drums – there’s a ton to love about the music you’ll find on “Touch” – so give this man even more credit where credit is due, because it is TOUGH to take your ears off of just how RIGHT he’s getting everything on the microphone in the way he sings this song. I know I’ve mentioned this a ton by now at this point in this review, but it truly needs to be said – Khalid has got a voice you will absolutely remember; the man is an absolutely fantastic singer. “Touch” adds a tiny bit of progressive tendencies into the design as well, creating a more adventurous movement to this song that can’t help but capture your attention. LISTEN to the writing & composition of the lyrics will ya? Brilliant. I love how he sings & staggers his words from line to line to carry on the uniqueness you’ll find. For real – every time “Touch” came back to the verse around the 2:25 mark and how the melody came surging to the surface again so sweetly & boldly at the same time…I just sat back and marveled at how memorable Mighty Mage is able to make a moment in music become. Powerful.
Man! He’s nearly like a modern-day Burl Ives as he sings a song like “Don’t Cry” – which also features a spectacular turn on the saxophone in the mix that darn near steals the show with such a radiantly stunning sound to it. It’s abundantly clear from the versatile style of his sound on display throughout this entire record that Mighty Mage has a knowledgeable history on the roots of music’s golden-era, drawing from a well of timeless melody without ever borrowing anything one iota too much at all. You can make comparisons as I have…but nothing quite covers it all…and in my opinion, that’s always a great thing to begin with…to possess that special rareness…but it’s also awesome when it just flat-out sounds excellent too – which is truly the case when it comes to the lineup of songs throughout Ancient Scrolls II. You could call a song like “Don’t Cry” Folk/Reggae…you could call it acoustic-based, low-key Ska and I wouldn’t argue that either…the fact is that a song like this has multiple dimensions of appeal & accessibility – and that’s all before you get to the Pop-inclinations of its main hooks or solo saxophone instrumentation to add even more strength further on down the road. Mighty Mage shows mighty control & restraint in the vast majority of this entire set-list on Ancient Scrolls II, showing a true mastery of composition & songwriting by revealing tunes that have exactly everything they need, without ever once becoming over-complicated, trite, or insincere. Musicianship & melody stand out every bit as much as the vocals on “Don’t Cry” – it’s another simple & sweet cut that leaves you wanting nothing more, and a solid representation of so many of the things that Mighty Mage is all about on a lyrical level.
While I’d probably side with the acoustic-based version of “Oh My” as the stronger of the two versions, don’t mistake that for any kind of complaint – I’m more than stoked about the reappearance of this song and I very rarely ever feel like a tune can warrant/withstand a second go on one album. Consider that a testament to the strength of the songwriting to start with – “Oh My” is a highly unique design that’s straight-up compelling to listen to, full-stop…so believe me when I say you can’t go wrong with either version. Having said all that, listening to the way that Mighty Mage gets the opportunity to light it up, seize the momentum and that added spark of amped-up electric energy on the “Oh My (Electric)” version is 100% riotous to experience…he’s been so professionally controlled throughout this lineup of songs, that to hear him give this last cut everything he’s got left in the tank is a serious treat for the ears. Great writers write tunes & melodies that can thrive in multiple environments, and the electric twist on “Oh My” at the end of Ancient Scrolls II confirms that completely – it’d be tough to somehow make this song dull in any style when it’s built with such bulletproof hooks & relentless passion at its core. It definitely ticks every box when it comes to what you want in a finale – and “Oh My (Electric)” caps off what’s been a massively impressive, endearing, melodic, and completely addictive record to listen to.
Ancient Scrolls II is officially out and available now! Make sure to find out more about the mighty music of Mighty Mage at the official mighty website at: https://www.MightyMage.com/