Life hasn’t been easy for Mark Mulcahy since the release of his last long-player, 2005’s still enduring In Pursuit Of Your Happiness, particularly with the death of his wife leaving him as a single parent to young twins. Mercifully though, Mulcahy has found a way to gradually return to active duty, in part thanks to the financial and moral support bestowed by 2009’s Ciao My Shining Star tribute compilation (which featured some choice Mulcahy songbook covers from the likes of Thom Yorke and The National). Hence, late last year saw the release of the sublime standalone Low Birthweight Child 7” single on Tonguemaster and a low-key UK tour to gently reacquaint Mulcahy with his loyal following. Now we have a fully-fledged album-sized comeback via a new label deal with Fire Records (at least for non-US territories not served by his own Mezzotint label) to fully reintegrate the much-missed and far from ordinary singer-songwriter into the wider music world.
Given his difficult recent history, some might have expected an album more akin to 1997’s minimalist and downbeat solo debut Fathering, yet Mulcahy has clearly sought to reignite his muse on Dear Mark J. Mulcahy, I Love You with a largely life-affirming ethos. In some ways this new record is a logical continuation of the more fleshed-out musical routes unveiled on 2001’s Smile Sunset and continued on the aforementioned In Pursuit Of Your Happiness. However, there’s a subtle shift away from the relatively sculpted lushness of those two LPs, with Mulcahy directing his hired-hands to adopt a ‘song-a-day’ recording approach, with an urgency not too far removed from his best and more live-centric recordings with Miracle Legion.
Overall, Mulcahy’s distinctively acrobatic tones and playfully loquacious wordplay both seem in fine form across the resultant slew of luminous and loosely-cut tunes. Thus, there is a vibrant mix of curling folk-rock (like the opening “I Taketh Away,” which imagines Tim Buckley fronting Buffalo Tom), chugging VU groove-riders with call-and-response vocals (“Everybody Hustles Leo” and “She Makes The World Turn Backwards”) and offbeat psychedelic-pop (“He’s A Magnet” and “Let The Fireflies Fly Away”), making up the collection’s mainly summery aesthetic. There remains some room for pausing and reflecting though, with the dreamy drum-free and harmony-drenched balladry of “The Rabbit” recalling the more wistful and laidback pastures that dominated previous solo LPs.
Whilst as a whole Dear Mark J. Mulcahy, I Love You does perhaps miss having a few more mellow Mulcahy moments to give it a stronger balance of moods, its rapidly flowing melodicism is impressively infectious nevertheless. As an endeavour in reconnecting with and expanding his audience, the album finds Mark Mulcahy reaching out more than he’s ever done before. It’s certainly good to have him back…