Folk With A Groove

You're muttering across the floe with "Mood Indigo" playing in your head when, without warning, you hit the sea-chute slush left behind by those nightmarish ice-boring, penguin-eating critters who burrow rapidly up to the shuffling sound of steps above. The plunge takes you down to a tinted, luminous-ceilinged swirl of pulsing ocean rhythms that protectively coat your senses as you swim for the turnstiles.

Actually, you've just turned on your CD-player and the opening track of Peter Mulvey's Rapture album is driving off the champagne eyes of the daily predator as the singer's breathy croon reminds you of the day you realized you've "carried your scars this far because you love them..." and the song's cantering tonality tells you that you had a radio centuries ago but it wasn't any good until electricity was invented.

Mulvey is a subway hero who has weathered the lower rungs in the cafes and dives of the New England area, which still blessedly teems with acoustic folk tradition, playing prime subterranean locations like Cambridge's Kendall Square substation and releasing a pair of his own albums before a triumph in 1994's Boston Acoustic Underground Competition brought him to the attention of Eastern Front Records.

Mulvey's current album tour, helping him fill in the blanks between the upper east coast and his roots state of Wisconsin, where Mulvey still retains a following from his days playing with the group Big Sky, brings him to Woodstock on Thursday, May 30th, for a fresh chapter of the WDST-Tinker Street Cafe collaboration that has brought an invigorating blend of outside talents into town in recent years.

Rapture's tunes are hinged to a deep groove patchwork of clear melody lines accented by some unusual tunings on Mulvey's knowing guitar and a tense coil of restraint in the hand of ace engineer Ducky Carlisle, whose apparent leaning to Lanois finesse reflects favorably upon Mulvey's studied simplicities. Entirely missing, but certainly not missed, is the high end dominance of the standard drum mix that's supposed to enhance a production's commercial appeal but usually converts the graces of a song into movements as jangled and top-heavy as a gymnast with enormous breasts. The laid back treatment of Mike Piehl's tasty drumming here, along with Mulvey's cooking guitar touch, makes Groove the operative word as Mulvey's vocals, sometimes seeming to float above the melody line, effectively coerce without a misguided trace of trying to overpower.

Mulvey is joined by former member of The Story, Jennifer Kimball, on several numbers, including "Half the Time," a tune about lovers' questions in an open g tuning. Amy Hartman and Pamela Means provide guest duets to underscore another pair of tracks.

Some of Mulvey's numbers are the "make it so" songs of the white-fisted child and it's scarcely surprising that twenty-something songwriters like Ben Harper or, here, Mulvey, latch on to incidents like the Rodney King verdict for inspiration. On the other hand it should be noted that in this great land even a black man with a lot of money, like O.J., can afford justice.

A recitation of a simple poem about having "voice" is nestled in here along with a Volkswagen instrumental called "Black Rabbit". The "Black Snow" of Boston (and, metaphorically, the contemporary world) confronts the inheritance of youth and leads in to "The Dreams," which exudes upon the fragility of the souls' task in maintaining a human element in a corporate universe. The "things are going to slide" premonitory undercurrent in the cast here is more than just a preview of Peter Coyote as Leonard Cohen in Adulthood As Revenge... With the Mary Kay Cosmetic Company investing heavily in Ollie North's new armorment & bulletproof vest company and the Bambi Smart Landmine Company to keep those pesky deer out of your garden just around the corner, there's still a bright future in law enforcement as a thriving capitalist industry which lawmakers will soon empower to confiscate the property of parents with unruly kids. Things are looking up!

One might conjecture that such touching concern for human rights, which are fading from our future anyway- as witness the current administration's slight concern for it in comparison to "intellectual rights" (a code word for "corporate rights") in China- is misplaced but Mulvey supplies a sardonic antidote for this notion with the 'secret' encore, "Aurora Borealis".

A charming CD custom used by folks from John Hiatt to Todd Snider, is to place the unlisted "Bonus" track at the end, after a sufficient space of silence, presumably for silent applause, appreciation and reflection. In this folky treat, Mulvey weds music from his compositions for a college production of Sam Shepard's Lie of the Mind to some bizarre 'noid-zoid warps adapted from mind angles of conversation that catch you sort of sideways and remind you that you get so used to it, you forget how strange it all really is as we gradually work our way back to world slavery.

The only cover tune is performed twice. Mike Scott's engaging Waterboys classic, "The Whole of the Moon," which Mulvey learned while playing on Dublin's Grafton Street, is offered in studio version and winningly live in the Harvard Square subway station, a stinging performance that underlines the absolute Must of catching this gig.

-Irv Yarg