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Chris Grabau - Magnolia Summer 2014

photo by Nate Burrell (

Magnolia Summer is a St. Louis-based rock band that has a rolling cast of members who also do double time in other bands (such as Grace Basementand the Bottle Rockets). Led by songwriter / multi-instrumentalist, Chris Grabau, Magnolia Summer is a band with a fluid membership of musicians who also do double-time in many other St. Louis based bands.  

Since 2003, Magnolia Summer has released 4 full length albums and two digital EPs through Undertow records.  The band has toured throughout the US and UK, performed multiple showcases including CMJ, and SXSW, and have played several festivals including Fair St. Louis and the inaugural Loufest event in St. Louis.  They have shared the stage with Jeff Tweedy, Cracker, Counting Crows, Matthew Sweet, The Minus 5, and even the legendary Chuck Berry.  In 2011, Magnolia Summer toured throughout the UK and performed the legendary Bob Harris BBC2 radio program.

Their latest release, The Hill or the Climb, is Magnolia Summer’s self-described “rock” album.  Recorded over 2 separate 3-day recording sessions at Sawhorse Studios with Jason McEntire, the result is 10 songs penned by singer songwriter Chris Grabau, the album features John Horton (Bottle Rockets) on guitar, Greg Lamb (Grace Basement / Gardenway) on bass, and John Baldus on drums.  Pianist Robert Lohr from Chuck Berry’s band adds piano on the first single, “Needles and Pins.”  Danny Kathriner (Half Knots / Cave States) adds additional harmonies and Rhodes piano.
In addition to the bands’ catalog, Magnolia Summer’s music has been found on commercials and several compilations including “Of Great and Mortal Men: 43 Songs For 43 US Presidents” that features music by Mark Kozelek, Califone, Rosie Thomas, Bill Callahan, and Alan Sparhawk.  Magnolia Summer’s “Diminished Returns” as remixed by acclaimed artist André Allen Anjos of The Remix Artists Collective (RAC).  Andre has remixed songs for the Shins, Bloc Party, Robyn, Tokyo Police Club, and Radiohead.

In addition to leading Magnolia Summer, Grabau contributes to several other St. Louis bands including co-leading the band Cave States with Danny Kathriner, and playing guitar for bands Half Knots, Finn’s Motel, and Waterloo.


“Magnolia Summer craft eleven songs that merit having the band’s name being mentioned with the likes of R.E.M., Yo La Tengo and Wilco.”

POP NARCOTIC: Top 20 Records of 2008
“Lines From The Frame is easily the best country-tinged rock album of 2008.”

Lines from the Frame is still another solid album from a band that seems to be on the cusp of something more

This release continues on in the Magnolia Summer tradition of sounding like the perfect soundtrack to a riverfront summer concert, a cooler full of Anheuser-Busch products parked next to the lawn chair. Putting that into a musical equivalent, Magnolia Summer falls somewhere between the spawn of Uncle Tupelo: Son Volt and Wilco. Chris Grabau and company capture the country spirit of Son Volt (“By Your Side”) and blend it with Wilco’s Southern California pop sound (“Pulling Phase to Ground”). But, on their third release, they’ve started stretching boundaries as well as evidenced by the fleshed-out ending of “Diminished Returns,” an eyes-closed, hip swaying, head down jam that showcases the band’s break from the expected. Another great Americana release by this St. Louis band.

From Christian Schaeffer for the Riverfront Times
Magnolia Summer, Lines from the Frame: Chris Grabau is often quick to point to the contributions of his collaborators when discussing his group Magnolia Summer. And while his third album features ace playing from members of Grace Basement, Tenement Ruth and the Bottle Rockets, his loaded lyrics and increasingly confident vocals can’t help but burn brightly. Lines from the Frame finds the band playing at louder volume and with more aggression, which contrasts nicely with the quiet intensity of Grabau’s songwriting.

NO DEPRESSION: Magnolia Summer’s Midwinter Contentment:
“Lines From The Frame is the kind of record that deserves to be noticed even by those who haven’t been fortunate enough to see this band live. It’s a well-balanced blend of direct passion and opaque beauty, of simplicity and complexity.”

RFT COVER STORY – by Annie Zaleski (11.05.08) D.I.Y. Now for the Future: The Undertow Collective and Magnolia Summer are using technology to modernize their D.I.Y. creative vision:
“Sonically, Frame is crystal-clear and dynamic. Grabau’s keening, wistful vocals mesh well with mournful violin from Kevin Buckley and the occasional curl of pedal steel. The music ranges from slow-burning alt-country (the Whiskeytown-esque “Like Setting Suns”) to pensive ballads (“Birds Without a Wire,” a gossamer duet with Glossary’s Kelly Kneiser) and gnarled, loud rockers (the wiry “Wrong Chords”). “By Your Side” is a Wilco-like track on which strings explode like a sunrise by the end. The jaunty jangle and springy cowbell of “Pulling Phase to Ground” recall the rowdiest moments of R.E.M.’s Life’s Rich Pageant.”

KDHX Blog by Roy Kasten – Lines From The Frame Review
“There’s a sense of freedom in the crunchy guitar hooks, arcing violin lines (courtesy of Grace Basement’s Kevin Buckley) and the craftsman-like arrangements of power pop and country. Maybe it’s Chris Grabau (he of the songwriting and singing) and John Horton (he of the Bottle Rockets) and Joe Thebeau’s (he of Finn’s Motel) thick and agile guitar parts or maybe it’s John Baldus’s splashing, impulsive drums that puts me in mind of Big Star’s Radio City though the songwriting is somewhat more philosophical than September Gurls. But Grabau’s contrasting images and ideas decline and ascent, erasure and memory, battle scars and moments of reprieve, time lost and found have a classic economy and naturalness.”
Magnolia Summer is a kind of collective of great musicians who play in other bands, oriented around singer-songwriter-instrumentalist Chris Grabau. Although the music they make has been described as roots-rock, it is a somewhat timeless gentle beauty that you realise half way in is one of the loveliest things you’ve heard in ages. It sounds like summer, unsurprisingly, but it sounds like an amazing early 70s Californian rock band musing on summer, or a late summer road trip – fans of The Jayhawks, Death Cab For Cutie, and maybe even The Black Crowes on a gentler day, will find a whole lot to like here. Lines From The Frame has benefited from wonderful production to both sharpen and expand the band’s sound – it captures their raison d’etre perfectly. Magnolia Summer may be more suited to an Americana audience than a UK Top 40, but Lines From The Frame is an album to turn the head of any adult who’ll listen for a minute or two. ACE rating 8/10

No Depression – Review of From Driveways’ Lost View
With the exception of the Bottle Rockets, Magnolia Summer is the finest band in St. Louis sill blending roots sensibilities with pure guitar rock. What their second album lacks in the expansive warmth of their debut Levers and Pulleys, it makes up for in tangled emotions and group coalescence. The taut, charging opener “Along For The Ride” and the rumbling “The Passing Days” have the electric stab and fedback blur (minus the eccentricity) of Satellite Heart era Flaming Lips, while “Words For The War” fuses the pain of oblique personal and political conflict over acoustic guitar and piano. Songwriter Chris Grabau sings with an urgent but sweet quiver; his images and melodies rise effortlessly through the stormiest arrangements, resulting in sometimes furious, sometimes plaintive, often exhilarating rock ‘n’ roll (Roy Kasten).

Harp Magazine – Review of From Driveways’ Lost View
On Magnolia Summe’s debut, 2003’s Levers and Pulleys, the atmosphere was muted and personal, like a friend quietly sharing a secret. Since the, the quintet has evolved – a veritable who’s who of St. Louis musicians, including Waterloo’s Chris Grabau and Mark Ray, the Linemen’s Greg Lamb, Ring, Cicada’s Aaron Zeveski, and the bottle Rockets’ John Horton – and discovered its inner rock band through relentless live work. The raucous results are all over the band’s sophomore effort. There are still moments of relative calm, like the sedate “Casting Satellites,” the mournful “Palindrome,” and the Wilco-tinges “Words for the War.” For the bulk of the album, however, Magnolia Summer combines the shimmery folk expanse of the first album with a rollicking Americana vibe that suggests Joe Pernice fronting Crazy Horse. And that’s a good thing (Brian Baker).

RFT Music Awards Profile (9/6/06)
When roots-rockers Nadine fizzled out a few years back, Magnolia Summer stepped up as the city’s leading makers of warm, introspective rock music. The recently released From Driveways’ Lost View plays down the band’s Americana leanings and pushes soaring guitars, cavernous drums and Chris Grabau’s sweet, yearning tenor voice to the forefront. View builds on an already solid foundation and suggests that the best is yet to come from Magnolia Summer. (CS)

Emusic – Review of From Driveways’ Lost View
The St. Louis group Magnolia Summer writes tense, quaking songs gilded with golden guitar jangle and topped with the raw, throaty vocals of Chris Grabau. They’re not alt-country per se, but there’s a definite twang and croon to their scuffed-up tunes that positions them close to bands like The Bottle Rockets. “Sum of All Fears” is a haunting slow burn, Grabau croaking out dire proclamations over plinking piano and dry guitar strum. “Sink or Swim” is sweeping and bright, anchored in a melodic guitar lead and driving, insistent percussion.

The Riverfront Times – May 10, 2006
“The end result is an engaging album that bursts with movement: A little bit Wilco’s ragged storytelling, sometimes Built to Spill’s noisy-jumpy indie rock, often R.E.M.’s Out of Time-era regal jangle, View isn’t afraid to smash expectations or transcend genres.”

St. Louis Post Dispatch – July, 2006

The music of Magnolia Summer swirls and lurches, meanders and stutters, dips and dives. It is a music rooted in pop forms, with melodic verses and choruses, yet not a music that sounds like anything familiar. Since the release two years ago of this St. Louis band’s debut album, Levers and Pulleys, Magnolia Summer has mutated onstage, developing into a louder, more focused, more direct outfit. But the melodies still float as if they were mists ascending from a river.

Where Magazine – March 2006
Part of the St. Louis Undertow Music umbrella of bands/producers/designers, Magnollia Summer crafts a pleasing blend of American folk and rock, with an ability to turn-up or turn-down with equal alpomb. Grounded by the vocals and songwriting of Chris Grabau, the four-piece band’s ably captured on the dozen-song CD, Levers and Pulleys, which showcases smart songwriting, fine production and a winning way with melody.

Sauce Magazine – April, 2006
Musically, it engages right away. The new, more “insurgent” version of Magnolia Summer seems to suit the band quite well.

With a strummy Americana sound somewhere between Son Volt and the Pernice Brothers, these songs slowly grow on you. Grabau’s vulnerable, barely whispered vocals perfectly convey the music’s delicate and intimate strokes. Like the sepia-toned graphics, the muted approach, especially during the final half, imbues the project with a soft, low-key, and thoughtful air that invites repeated spins.

No Depression
Just one spin of the signature song “Summer Moon” – all burnished twang, sweet fiddle melody and yearning vocals (a cross between Neil Young and Jeff Tweedy, Grabau has a boyish falsetto to make a Catholic schoolgirl swoon) – will have you gasping from the band’s bright glow.A dedicated critic might be inclined to tick off crucial group stats – it’s Grabau’s baby; the sextet’s members have played with (or do double time in) Waterloo, Ring Cicada, Mike Ireland & Holler, and Jay Farrar’s band; that sort of stuff. But for me, well, the weather’s turned warm, the Magnolia Summer looms, and suddenly the time feels right for dancing in the streets.

Metroland Online
Levers and Pulleys may be hard to pin down stylistically, but it’s unified by the strength of the writing and the sympathetic arrangements.

Mundane Sounds
While all of the songs are pretty–if not a little bit similar in places–it’s this overwhelming feeling that the calming sounds of Levers and Pulleys are merely the calm before the storm. Grabau and company (featuring bandmates from Waterloo, as well as friends from other established bands as Nadine and Hazeldine) could really make an interesting blend of electronica-tempered country-folk that could send Neil Halstead running back to the barn with bong in hand. For a debut, Levers and Pulleys is a nice little start; over time, I’m expecting greatness.

The Riverfront Times (2004)
“Supergroup” isn’t a term that gets tossed around St. Louis’ music scene too often (unless a former member of the Urge is involved, of course), but Magnolia Summer may be this town’s answer to the New Pornographers or, heaven forfend, Damn Yankees. Former Stillwater head Chris Grabau leads this ensemble-cum-recording project, which includes contributions from Waterloo’s Mark Ray, Climber chanteuse Heather Moll and guitarist-about-town John Horton. Though these and other St. Louis all-stars help craft the sound onstage and in the studio, Grabau’s gentle delivery and subtly beautiful lyrics are at the forefront. With the recently released Levers and Pulleys, Magnolia Summer has lovingly pieced together an album’s worth of late nights, faded photographs and wistful recollections. After just a handful of live shows, Magnolia Summer has already got this town buzzing. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.