Kicking off a Mark Mulcahy themed weekend of reviews, I begin with my scheduled new album review. This time, I plan to review an album whose release date was a fortnight ago on the day of publication. This is quite late for my page, but if anybody deserves a late mention, it’s the ever unappreciated Mark Mulcahy.
Best known as the front-man for Connecticut based band ‘Miracle Legion‘ Mark Mulcahy boasts a music career spanning over four decades. Outlasting his band in the industry, when Miracle Legion split in the mid-1990s (though reformed – more detail to come in subsequent posts), Mulcahy has existed under the radar for years releasing a new album every few years.
Mulcahy’s new album: “The Possum in the Driveway’ came four years after his previous release, and therefore we expected something big. Sadly, what we got was no more than an average production: generally okay with flashes of brilliance, but nothing to rave about. This is a shame. Mulcahy looked sure to fulfill expectations, with the reformation of Miracle Legion proving a hit at smaller folk festivals such as Green Man.
‘The Possum in the Driveway’ (Possum) can be given some credit for being completed at all, however. Mulcahy and his entourage were forced to record in multiple studios, traipsing back and forth, following an accident in their first studio: it burned down. Mulcahy said “The record took years off [his] life to make” . Maybe we should give Mulcahy credit, first and foremost, for seeing this project through at all.
Opening with a slow-ballad, reminiscent in style of Paul Simon’s ‘Still Crazy After All These Years’ (song, not album), Mulcahy seems to come agonizingly close to a single of the same calibre as Simon’s classic, but falls short. Where exactly this shortcoming can be found within the song, one can’t say, but it disappoints given its clear potential. A bad start.
This disappointment is followed up by disinterest. The album’s second track is solid, with a strong bass-line, but doesn’t do enough to lift spirits after the opener. It is only when we arrive at the third track in the album, ‘I Am the Number 13′, that we begin to hear work worthy of the alt-rock musician. Markedly switching away from Mulcahy’s usual music style, he chooses this time – as is the case for the whole of Possum – to ditch the resonator-sounding guitars, and instead opts for bigger orchestration. The inclusion of trumpets give the album an unusual twist, and in track three, it works to perfection. Whilst the previous tracks failed to mix sufficiently to give the feeling of growth and layering, I Am the Number 13 is effective; it’s orchestration this time hitting the nail on the head. A slightly Latin feel to the whole production, I Am the Number 13
combines harmonising vocals, rhythm guitar and an understated but effective baseline to produce a song of magnificent quality. One of Mulcahy’s best solo productions: I Am the Number 13 deserves to live on in the minds of listeners, even if the album as a whole is more or less forgotten.
This likely to-be-forgotten classic is followed up by another solid track: ‘Catching Mice’. Unlike with track two, the preceding tracks ensures suitable appreciation of Mulcahy’s work. Catching Mice is an unusual song, which has an almost child-like feel to the lyrics and theme. This is oddly disorientating, but nonetheless, the track can be appreciated for what it is: good, but not great.
This theme continues for the majority of the album. No songs blow your socks off, but you aren’t too disappointed. ‘The Fiddler’ sounds oddly familiar, but what it could be likened to is unclear: a bit like a Foxygen single. ‘Hollywood Never Forgives’ is an outlier in the album, with a quicker paced tempo. It is clear in this track that Mulcahy in experimenting with his new orchestral style, giving it an unusual charm not afforded to experienced musicians in this style. ‘Jimmy’ has a distinct Dave Edmunds/Nick Lowe feel to it and, equally, ‘Geraldine’ sounds like a Robert Wyatt single (perhaps better suited to Wyatt’s vocals too). Both tracks live up to the ‘solid’ mark, but following two mediocre tracks, they lack impressiveness. A theme throughout the whole album is clearly the devaluation of decent tracks by disappointing fillers. An argument could definitely be made for cutting at least four tracks off the album, which would have left Mulcahy with a short, but very good release.
Overall, Possum is like many of the album I review. It has good songs, but it lacks the track consistency of a noteworthy album. As stated before, if you listen to just one track in the album, it would be far and above ‘I Am the Number 13’. Impressive as a single, it is a testament to the ability of the under-appreciated Mark Mulcahy.
Artist: Mark Mulcahy
Release date: April 28, 2017
Play time: 42 mins
Standout track: I Am the Number 13