It's now day ten since I obtained my much coveted copy of Mustard Retreat’s “MR7” at the Tenth Annual Central Ohio Folk Festival, featuring the songwriting team of David Tamulevich and Michael Hough. It has also been ten mornings now that I have awakened with a different song from this brilliant CD swimming in my dreams. There will likely be few recordings that promise to reside in my CD changer, or resound in my consciousness with the strength and longevity of MR7. Every time I listen to this collection of songs, original and otherwise, I hear something else that takes me to another unexpectedly beautiful, inspiring or haunting place. The entire CD by duo David Tamulevich and Michael Hough rings with exquisite lyric and melody that have been relentlessly occupying my dreams since the first listening over a week ago.
Hough and Tamulevich offer up only brilliantly-crafted songs. Obviously though, they appreciate that great songs come from everywhere. The songs of other artists are sometimes just too good not to record, and MR7 features a fair sprinkling of other artist's work, including that of poets. Threnody, by 20th century poet Dorothy Parker, grabbed my heart and wouldn't let go. Tamulevich's masterful composition, the guitar answering to the vocal melodies weaving within this song, plucks your heartstrings unrelentingly until it has succeeded in opening up that chakrah just a little more. Hough and Tamulevich joyfully infect you with State of Mine, by Jay Stielstra, where they sing to the deep love of their home state of Michigan (black flies and all). The haunting acappella harmony in Harvest Moon, written by Chris and Meredith Thompson, immediately retrace your memory to that one, crisp Fall night when your breath freezes in the air, and the full October Moon hangs low in the sky. You feel the harvest moon pulling you and binding you in its silent, magnificent power.
Yes, MR7 is haunting. Hough and Tamulevich pen brilliant lyric that paint pictures which invite you, or even take to back, to places you would never expect to go, or return to. For example, a certain resignation to fate surrounds the tale of Strawberry Joan. This song struck me immediately with the familiar experience of reading someone's palm, and consequently, of not being able to speak the fateful truth in what was seen in the lines. When the inevitable event unfolds for the one whom asked you to read their palm, you decide that the next time someone asks you to read their palm, you will say "no." Pete Kennedy's guitar work on Strawberry Joan evokes the mournfully understated melodic styling of Dire Straits' Mark Knopfler.
Hough and Tamulevich weave the dark tale of The Raven with an evocatively mysterious melody woven by the silver thread of Jeremy Kittel's fiddle. It is the story itself though, which is way out in front. Any story worth telling is worth telling well as is this one. With The Raven we are reminded that our fate is often sealed by our choices, not just by the lines on our palms.
However, Hough has something more important to say with his Samhain Wish where he recalls a Halloween celebration. He gets to the heart of the simple meaning behind the ancient Celtic harvest celebration of Samhain. At this time when the "veil is thin" between the living and dead, between "mortal and fey", the ancients celebrated those dead and those yet-to-be, let go of that which was no longer useful, casting it into the Samhain fire. They welcomed in the new souls from the previous year, and asked the dead for their blessing for the new year. In Samhain Wish, Hough wishes us to let go of old enmity, to "break the chain of religious persecution" by finding the power of healing and forgiveness within ourselves. He urges us to get on with our spiritual evolution and move toward a greater peace. What a powerful message. The Welcoming follows, another beautifully crafted melody and lyric from Tamulevich which won't leave me alone. Again, the beautifully warm fiddle playing of the young supertalent, Jeremy Kittel welcomes you into the song. It has been said that humans evolved their cognitive abilities by thinking while staring into the burning embers of a fire. It feels as though Tamulevich wrote this before the hearth. The warming melody welcomes you inside, introspectively speaking, on a cold winter night, to take rest in the satisfying warmth and peaceful sanctity and sanctuary of your own soul.
Hough's rocking Whatcha Gonna Do? asks us how we plan on responding to the crumbling empire around us. Surrounded by a rapidly changing world, Whatcha Gonna Do? asks just how prepared we are for upheaval. What will become of us as we watch our world crumble? Pete Kennedy's beautifully compelling lead guitar, perfectly conveys the song's sense of apocalyptic urgency.
In the end, MR7 concludes on a positive note though, by reminding us of the strength of our own hope and faith in community. A Simple Faith, another of Tamulevich's inspiring and beautiful invocations, opens itself up to harmony, both chorally and to the harmony and strength shared in communion with others. The song's spirit is buoyed by the masterful Uilleann pipes of Tyler Duncan.
May this song and this CD know countless voices. Together, in uplifting harmony, we sang A Simple Faith in the closing song circle on that beautiful Sunday in early May at the Tenth Annual Central Ohio Folk Festival, which I hope brings us together again in harmony for a repeat performance from Mustard's Retreat. In the meantime, I have MR7 to help me keep the faith until I once again may be rejuvenated in reunion with Michael Hough and David Tamulevich.
On MR7, besides the masterful lyric and melody this volume of songs possess, the production alone sets this fine CD apart. Tamulevich and Hough brought tog ether the impressive contributions of so many other fine artists on this CD. This well-produced volume is already an all-time favorite of mine. What a pleasurable, thought provoking and uplifting experience it is to succumb to the magic of Mustard's Retreat. It is my wish the songs on MR7 continue to stir in my dreams while I look forward to hearing the one that awakens me tomorrow.
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