Music Review: Peter Mulvey – The Good Stuff

Hey there…

What is it about Peter Mulvey’s voice? Some gravelly, deep quality that makes him not only persuasive and honest but almost addictive? Something about the way he composes his arrangements or writes his lyrics? The serious fun it seems he has playing every song? I don’t honestly know.

But every time Mulvey releases an album, I have to listen. Ever since Notes from Elsewhere, I have been a fan. Notes is one of those albums that rises to the top of my collection more often than I might want to admit and several tracks from Letters From a Flying Machine are also working their way up – especially the honesty of some of the letters he reads, like “Vlad the Astrophysicist”!

So what is his latest album like? The Good Stuff takes a bunch of songs I have never heard before (and a few I have) and puts a Mulvey spin on them in that magical way only he can. Though I have to admit the first couple of times I listened to the album in the car I wasn’t sure I liked it. It might just be the horrible speakers in the car however, since I listened to it about three times on my iPad on a plane a couple of weeks ago and it grew on me each time.

Why has it grown on me? This CD collects the work of a disparate group of songwriters and unifies it with Peter’s voice… Songwriters such as Willie Nelson (“Are You Sure?”), Chris Smithers (“Time to Spend”), Tom Waits (“Green Grass”), Duke Ellington (“Mood Indigo”), Thelonious Monk (“Ruby My dear”) and others are represented. Recorded over three days in Connecticut, the album features Mulvey with upright bassist Paul Kochanski, violinist Randy Sabien, guitarist David Goodrich, and drummer Jason Smith, with guest vocalist Kris Delmhorst on “Are You Sure?” Each track offers a simple, heartfelt rendition of a classic.

Tracks like “Everybody Knows” groove along telling stories about infidelity and other injustices… “Everybody knows that you’ve been faithful / give a night or two / Everybody knows you’ve been discreet / but there were so many people you just had to meet / without your clothes…” Written by Leonard Cohen, this is a song about the wrongs in the world that everyone accepts and just lives with. Though not cheery, Mulvey lends it a certain gravitas with a simple arrangement and simple delivery.

One of my favorites on the album has to be “Are You Sure?” with the duet between Mulvey and Delmhorst. It reminds me of a different era of music-making. Simple harmonies, well sung, without the over-engineered instrumentals – just a couple of guitars, a snare, and a violin. There’s almost a “drunk” sound to the violin the longer the song goes along, as the singers try to convince a barfly it’s time to leave the bar. Again, the honesty comes through not just in the lyrics but in the delivery.

But Mulvey’s rendition of “Mood Indigo” takes the cake. Such a classic big band standard that’s been done since the 1930s by artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Frank Sinatra, Louie Armstrong, Joe Jackson, Nat “King” Cole, and others… Well, now we can add Peter Mulvey to the list. I’ve never heard this jazzy tune done with simple guitar arrangements and violin and Pete just lays it down smooth. This is the blues, people. “Always get that mood indigo / since my baby said goodbye / in the evenin’ when lights are low / I’m so lonesome I could cry…” Sing it brother.

That’s just a taste of the fourteen tracks on this CD. Now, if you’re expecting Mulvey originals, The Good Stuff is probably not the CD for you. But if you want to hear a master give interpretations of standard songs of the last century, I’d encourage you to give it a listen. As always, Pete’s on top of his game and this CD will work its way to the top of my collection soon, I’m sure.

For more about Peter Mulvey, be sure to check out his home page for other albums, news, and his touring schedule.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

Music Review: Born On Earth – Rusty Anderson

Hey!

Every now and then I have an artist recommended to me that I would never have heard about otherwise. Rusty Anderson is one of those. He deserves some serious attention for his latest album – Born On Earth. With a mix of rocking guitars and some quieter pieces (including a strings intro for the title track), the album has a bit of everything.

At age 50, Anderson has played with some great acts including Elton John, The New Radicals, Willie Nelson, The Wallflowers, Stevie Nicks, and Paul McCartney. He was a part of the Paul McCartney band from 2001 until 2007. His first solo release, Undressing Underwater released initially in 2003 and was re-released in 2005. His new album was just released in October 2009.

The title track, “Born On Earth,” kicks off in an interesting way. A string intro that might be more expected in a classical music concert leads to some screaming guitars that blend into some serious rocking music. But when you factor in the almost sarcastic approach to the world’s woes that go along with the rock, I found myself really liking this one… “all the ice is melting away / but its alright / cause all we gotta do is pray” and “we got folks in high places / down low as can be / and no matter how high we climb/ we’re born on earth…” We’re all here, we might as well rock our way to the end, right?

The rest of the album floats between hard rock, blues, acoustic and slower guitar-layered tunes. Anderson has a gift for creating analogies in his songs that we can all identify with. Telling stories of loves lost and found and people trying to find the answers to all those questions we all have.

“Baggage Claim” is one of those analogy-laden songs set in our modern world of people passing in crowded airports. “… I’ll meet you / in the baggage claim / where no one is to blame … the bell starts ringing at the carousel / but all the bags kinda look the same … so open it up and see what you find…” Who hasn’t wanted to start over in a relationship at one time or another?

But “Julia Roberts – filtered mix” is by far my favorite song on the album. It has a sound that blends influences of the ’60s and ’70s – a bit of Beatles, a bit of Donovan, a bit of the Hollies… Even I have to admit a crush on Julia Roberts at one time in the distant past, though I can’t say I ever dreamed of Julia Roberts down by the sea! “isn’t this a lovely dream Julia Roberts? / we walked into the restaurant near ocean and vermont / the paparazzi were called / i lost her gaze to a man by the bar / who didn’t like me at all…” It’s the stream-of-consciousness most dreams happen to exist in.

The gift of multiple styles, great arrangements, and creative lyrics is one heck of a trifecta for Rusty Anderson in this album, Born on Earth. Find a copy online or at your favorite brick-and-mortar store and be sure to ask for it at your favorite radio station. All of these tunes would sound great over the airwaves cruising into your car!

You can also find out more about Rusty at his website.

–Fitz

p.s. Be sure to check out Rusty’s albums!

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Music Review: Fascination by the Greencards

Hey there…

What happens when you mix bluegrass, folk, and the blues? You end up with something quite extraordinary. When I first listened to The Greencards‘ new album Fascination I was blown away. There are three songs on the CD I can’t stop listening to. And the rest of the songs are far from throwaways – they just happen to play second fiddle to the songs I can’t get out of my head.

Carol Young and Kym Warner hail from Australia and Eamon McLoughlin is from the U.K. So how did this band form in Austin, TX, and end up being based in Nashville, TN? And how the heck have they slipped under my radar since 2003?

It was their love of bluegrass that brought them all together in the States. From there, over the last few years they’ve recorded multiple albums and toured with such greats as Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson. Their fans aren’t the only ones who know a good group when they hear it. They’ve gathered many awards and acclamations, from the Americana Music Award for “Emerging Artist of the Year” in 2006 to 2008’s “Best Country Instrumental Performance” Grammy nomination for Viridian. If Fascination is any indication, the group is only getting better.

The trio merges voice and natural instruments to let the music simply take over. And from the first track to the last, I found my toes tapping and my body wanting to dance (something you really don’t want to see). I have never heard so many instruments, from bass and bouzouki, to violin and xylophone, played so flawlessly by such a small group. It just takes over and fills your heart.

Young has one of those voices that haunts me. She could probably sing the phone book and I’d pay to hear it. And when paired with the harmonies and strings of Kym and Eamon, there are layers that just give me the chills.

What totally blew me away is how effortless it seems as a listening experience. The album flows from beginning to end and just takes you along for the ride.

But beyond the instruments and vocals, the songs are unique. If you listen to the melodies, you hear elements of country, bluegrass, the blues, jazz, and even some rock thrown in for good measure. And then if you listen to the lyrics, each tells a story with the rhythm of poetry.

The core of the album for me comes down to three songs… “Chico Calling”, “Three Four Time”, and “Davey Jones.”

“Chico Calling” with its light, folksy guitar and violin picking throughout builds to tell the story of a woman following her lover wherever he may go… “We ain’t got no money / we’re livin’ on a dream / and I look like a beggar / following at your feet / and baby I’ll follow you wherever you go…” The song builds and sounds like the train she’s trying to ride on as you listen to the train whistle with her.

If you listen to the bluesy “Three Four Time”, the baseline seems to sing with Young. It’s been stripped down to include just a bit of violin in the background, the barest bit of percussion, the baseline and her voice crooning “You’re buried deep in my soul / the one thing I can’t control / you’ve eased my mind / you came in three-four time…”

But for me, “Davey Jones” is the pinnacle of the CD. Each time I hear it, I get chills down my spine. As I hunted for the lyrics, I discovered that it’s a cover of an original song performed and written by Gordie Sampson. The Greencards’ version uses silence to punctuate the story of a drowning man better than any other song I’ve heard. And there’s something about the bittersweet melodies and lyrics that touches the heart of sailors everywhere tempting fate with each tide.

Be sure to check out The Greencards’ album Fascination. They have a unique sound that makes them stand out from the crowd as something new. I can hardly wait to hear what’s next for them.

If you want to hear some of their music online, check out their MySpace page and their website. They’re currently on tour, so be sure to check them out when they’re in your neighborhood!

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up the Greencards albums at Amazon and enjoy this amazing music!

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