Dean Merrell was born in 1978 to a family of zealous musicians. Merrell’s sisters, mother and grandmother provided an environment which allowed him to grow musically. But at 16 years old his father could barely advise him how to start playing guitar. Through high school and later years travelling as an Anthropology major, Merrell constantly involved himself in music whether it be a punk band, rock ‘n roll group, or playing guitar alone in down time. Since 2007, Merrell has pursued a return to his musical root: A self-produced singer/songwriter sound that made him fall in love with music (In infancy, Merrell adored Joni Mitchell). Dean Merrell’s newest album, Magickal Power, is impending, currently including 6 tracks, the final of which is a cover of David Bixby’s song “Morning Sun” from the 1969 psych-folk landmark album, Ode to Quetzalcoatl. Merrell works to evoke a psychedelic, dreamy, visionary aesthetic which aims to motivate the listener to confront life’s disharmony. The listener can expect songwriting which centers on rich, ballad-like harmonies propelled by finger-picked guitar and ambient layers of folk-inspired instrument leads. Magickal Power wishes the listener to reflect on a higher energy, a more complete interflow between the individual and everything else.
Magickal Power is a culmination of 3 years’ work. He has woven organs, flutes, electric guitars, and gentle female vocal harmonies into the texture of this gentle, spacey 6-track album. The minimalistic approach lends to Merrell’s gentle experimentation with tracks like “Dragon Shapes”, a standout track in its rhythmic arrangement which venture into odd rhythm counts that serves to disorient/reorient a casual musician or listener. An average songwriter would balk at the idea of adding extra beats and breaking up the simple flow of a Western music pulse. Merrell has employed it to great effect. “When Bacchus Plays His Flute” heralds an ambient flute melody which contrasts well with Merrell’s full baritone vocalizations. The song has a simple, repetitious cadence that elicits a meditative mood. Do not to let your mind wander but do relax. Another light female voice enters to contrast and harmonize with Merrell’s. One can imagine this track is the wash of sound this psychedelic folk artist has been striving for. “Snakes” brings a sonic edge to this “folk” song with some processed electric guitar. The Grateful Dead would be proud of the background riffing which fills the role a flute played in the opening track. But of course it gets the chance to step up and show off for a few bars to pleasing effect. Dean’s slurring, wide-vibrato vocal floats above the asymmetrical 3-beat for a driving, intricate jam that ends perhaps a little too soon… at least, by the Dead’s standards! “Serpents Basking in Gold” almost approaches the structured chord-melody sound of a southern rock ballad. Skynyrd’s “Simple Man” comes to mind. Though this track is not what you would expect from a Southern Rock band, the sounds fit and serve the song. “Be the Mallows You See” further expands the album’s texture with a reedy instrument which appears to be an accordion. This instrument again fills an ambient riffing layer which gives the listener a choice in where to focus attention. The EP concludes with Merrell’s stellar interpretation of “Morning Sun”. It is true to the original, which is to say it conforms to the album’s psychedelic aspect of floating about in joyous euphoria.
Merrell has considered his purpose and capabilities and tied together elements that make for an engaging EP. Merrell’s lyrical content is admittedly abstract and draws from ancient mythological symbols (Perhaps thanks to his education in Anthropology?). A listener must be open to a nebulous plea throughout the track list: Remember the human condition is subject to a cycle of regeneration. All things must be born and then die; we must be ready to accept the Way of Nature and should connect to a deeper meaning through it all. This album should be enjoyed while relaxing on a big fluffy couch or in a time of peaceful reflection. Start the water for a boil, set out your tea and incense, and hit play!
Dean Merrell currently lives in Tucson, AZ with his girlfriend and happily teaches Social Studies at a high school. He also frequents the Sedona and Flagstaff area as a part of the Sound Healing, Yoga, and Meditation community. He would like to shout-out Andrew Crisberg for his visual art contributions and David Bixby for writing the song “Morning Sun” which is included in Merrell’s newest release on Bandcamp.
Review by Eric Caroffino