The Good Stuff, Peter Mulvey's fifteenth record, is a collection of standards which promptly rejects the accepted definition of “Standard” in favor of a more vivid, open approach. The music of Tom Waits is right there with Duke Ellington; Willie Nelson next to Thelonious Monk; Jolie Holland juxtaposed with Bill Frisell. Mulvey (along with his band, the Crumbling Beauties) address each tune with a true artist's touch. His mirthful, gravelly baritone is front and center from moment one, and every track is a master class in restraint, phrasing, and commitment.
Twenty-odd years on the road, performing songs from his own catalog and from a vast, varied, and deep well of classic and obscure covers, has prepared Mulvey to deliver this collection. Night after night, the process of divining the heart of a song, being alert to where the moment can lead, has shaped him as an artist. To each rendition, he brings the soul of a singer, a light touch in a heavy world.
Recorded in just three days at Signature Sounds Studios in the Connecticut Woods, the performances feature upright bassist Paul Kochanksi, violinist Randy Sabien, guitarist David Goodrich, and drummer Jason Smith. The arrangements run from quintet-in-full-swing down to hushed trio.
The centerpiece of The Good Stuff is a sequence in which a bluesy take on the Ellington classic “Mood Indigo” is sandwiched between Tom Waits’ obscure “Green Grass,” lovingly relocated from the guttural, and a charmingly haphazard rendition of Jolie Holland's “Old Fashioned Morphine”. This triptych represents not so much the diversity of songwriting on the record as the commonality. “I'd put those three artists in the same drawer in the big bureau of songwriters,” says Mulvey. “They’re from different eras, and considered different animals -- jazz composer, bohemian beat poet, Americana revivalist -- but to my ear they're the same, in that they're always trying to write a timeless song.”
Throughout the recording session Peter Mulvey was constantly throwing curveballs at the band . . . and at himself. He’d scan the list of songs he put together ahead of recording to find one unfamiliar to some or all in the room, and they’d create an arrangement on the fly and record it immediately. “When everything isn’t planned ahead of time, it can be magical how each musician finds a way into the song,” says Mulvey. “When the performance comes alive, it’s such a charge. You know that old expression ‘That’s really happening’? It’s literal. It’s such a beautifully concise description of what it means when music is really, really alive: it’s literally happening.”
The point of departure for this happening is a great song, a classic, whether enshrined in the canon or not. This record is an argument for the Great American Songbook not as a musty tome but as a living, breathing document, always open to renewal and revision. Something meant not just to be revered, but also enjoyed. In other words, The Good Stuff.
Over the past 20 years, Peter Mulvey has pursued a restless, eclectic path as a writer and musician immersing himself in Tin
Pan Alley jazz, modern acoustic, poetry, narrative, and Americana stylings. Relentlessly touring as a headliner his attitude is, “When you love what you do, you can work all the time.”...more