MP3 Karl Mullen - Mercy Me With Curses
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10 MP3 Songs
POP: Folky Pop, FOLK: Modern Folk
Change is good. And with his new album, "Mercy Me With Curses," popular Pittsburgh musician Karl Mullen is undergoing several transformations. First, he's dropped the band name Ploughman's Lunch in favor of a simpler identity.
He's also chosen a new, more accessible musical direction with this distinctly pop-flavored disc. And he's forged a partnership with independent label Merging Media, a new home for artists with original voices. Mullen's disc is the multimedia label's maiden release; the company is also launching https://www.tradebit.com to coincide with the album's December 5 street date.
Though the band received wide acclaim for its 1999 acoustic album, "The Ploughman's Lunch" (J-Bird Records), Mullen sought a fuller, more deeply textured sound for "Mercy Me With Curses." To help him find it, he turned to famed producer Kevin Moloney (U2, Sinead O'Connor). The album was recorded at Mr. Small's Fun House, the intimate Pittsburgh studio owned by members of Rusted Root.
It was mixed at Totally Wired Studios in Dublin and mastered at L.A.'s renowned Mastering Lab. Both sites were used by U2 during the making of that band's just-released "All That You Can't Leave Behind."
Mullen is quick to note the album is a group effort, with contributions by several Ploughman's Lunch members. In fact, he regards the musical entity of Karl Mullen as a multi-member unit, not a single person. Completing that unit are Jennifer Goree on vocals, Rich Jacques (Brownie Mary) on guitar, Tom Compton (Johnny Winter) on percussion, Don Roehlich on saxes and clarinet, Chris Lohr on bass and Megan Williams on fiddle.
Their collective talent, coupled with Mullen's extraordinary performing and songwriting skills, elevate "Mercy Me With Curses" to a level far beyond any previous Ploughman's effort.
"The language is very important to me, and I have developed my own style of writing lyrics," Mullen says. "They are of course personal and poetic, but I hope also universal. I do not describe the world - I describe what the interior world sometimes feels like."
That world is luring influential listeners.
"Karl Mullen's album is one of the freshest, most creative works of art I've heard in a long time," raves top AAA radio promoter Michele Clark.
Says WYEP-FM program director Rosemary Welsch, "Karl Mullen's new release stands as a testament to the strength of his songwriting, personal yet accessible to anyone who's loved, lost and enjoyed life to its fullest. These songs are Mullen's best to date."
Moloney offers equally effusive praise.
"I think the music scene is set to explode (in Pittsburgh) and I think Karl is at the forefront," he says.
Merging Media partners Marco Cardamone and Barney Lee say they were attracted to the project after catching Mullen's energetic performances at Club Café, an intimate venue the company operates on Pittsburgh's historic South Side.
"With so much turmoil in the music business today, it's refreshing to have an artist like Karl releasing original material, and it's exciting to make it happen in Pittsburgh," says Cardamone. "We see Karl's album, Merging Media and Club Cafe as catalysts for a new surge of musical momentum here."
Adds Mullen: "It's an exciting time to be part of the Pittsburgh music scene because it finally feels like there is a scene."
Named to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's 1999 list of the city's top 50 cultural movers and shakers, Mullen is also a visual artist who has exhibited in the United States and Europe, and was artist-in-residence at the 1999 Guinness Fleadh Festival.
His Ploughman's Lunch credits include airplay on such influential radio stations as New York's WFUV, Philly's WXPN and Pittsburgh's WYEP, and on the syndicated "Acoustic Café." Notable live performances included an appearance on 'XPN's syndicated "World Café"; at New York's prestigious Bottom Line; and on tour dates with 10,000 Maniacs, Francis Dunnery, Black 47 and the Saw Doctors, as well as opening slots for Bob Dylan and the Chieftains.
"Mercy Me With Curses": About The Music
"Mercy Me With Curses" is almost a headphone album, a disc that's so richly layered and finely nuanced, new facets continue to reveal themselves with each listen.
While respecting tradition, the impeccably produced album doesn't shy away from the occasional electronic blips and burbles of modern song construction. Like the best Morcheeba albums, there's a silky, flowing feel throughout.
That is not to say there's anything remotely trip-hop about "Mercy's" sound. These are not sleep-inducing tunes by any means; from the opening cut, "Standing Waiting," it's clear these songs are more than background music. That one's an unmistakably up-tempo pop tune, the kind that triggers toe-tapping impulses even before it delivers an irresistible, retro-'60s trumpet solo.
Tin whistles give "The Real Deal" a Celtic lilt, heightened by Jennifer Goree's spellbinding vocals. She tackles a different singing style in "Let's Get Lost," a song that's part Burt Bacharach, part Astrud Gilberto, totally seductive and absolutely gorgeous. (Mullen says it's a homage to jazz great Chet Baker; the title's taken from the movie about the late trumpeter.)
"All of Our Lives" evokes the atmospheric elements of the best Sting or Peter Gabriel works. It's got a floating quality, like the whispered voices of monks echoing inside a monastery's walls. Surprisingly, Mullen reports it was written right in the recording studio. He penned two others, "This Old World" and "Standing Waiting," the night before Moloney arrived in Pittsburgh.
Mullen explains "The Cracked Mirror Curse" as a song about narcissism, cocaine addiction and seven years of bad luck ("For seven long years/I was wandering in the wilderness"). The song threads a slight calypso beat behind slide guitar, fiddle ... and strains of "Amazing Grace" - which slipped in, Mullen says, when guitarist Jacques started riffing off a melody he heard Goree humming.
In "Whoever You Are," smooth ribbons of melody take on a quietly gripping edge of desperation as Mullen and Goree deliver the lyrics: "Down in the cities/burning and moaning/the sky scrapes for someone/I'm aching to pull you down."
Wrapping it all up is the charming sonic stew of "Sing Out" - intended, Mullen says, to be regarded as the last chapter of a book or the final scene in a movie. If one listens to the album in its entirety, he says, it should feel like taking a journey.
There's no question it transports the soul.
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