4 stars (out of 5)
By Aaron Keith Harris
Music writers often say it, but it’s true. It never stops being nice that occasionally in your mailbox appears sounds from a promising musician you never would have discovered otherwise. This, which is largely the work of artists and good publicists, is even more crucial as multi-artist labels are not as often part of the process.
Conor Mulroy, a Massachusetts native who plays mandolin, guitar, banjo, bass, and piano, is my latest unsought musical discovery. On what looks to be his fourth solo recording, FoxFire, Mulroy confines himself to the mandolin in leading a small unit—Tristan Clarridge (fiddle), Corey DiMario (double bass, tenor guitar), and Rob Cimitile (steel string guitar)—through 46 minutes of his own compositions divided into three songs and two multi-part movements.
“5 Tone Reel,” “Tenant’s Harbor,” and “Taylor’s Ridge” are swift and Celtic-tinged, notable for Mulroy’s clean-picked, insistent melodies and Clarridge’s exquisite tone, both when he’s out front and filling in.
The five-part “Movement 1” follows, and is a bit confusing as labeled. Each of the five tracks has enough of it’s own flavor, often provided by Cimitile’s guitar approach, to be distinct, but there didn’t seem to be a strog enough thread linking them. Labelled differently, I might not have even noticed this, but as it is, it would have been better to let each segment become more of what it could have on its own.
The eight-part “Movement 2” includes Gary Feldman on marimba, adding a rich, yet subtle jazzy texture to what has been a decidedly rustic affair thus far, freeing up Mulroy and Clarridge to stretch their legs while providing the cohesion that “Movement 1” may lack.
It’s nice to hear a young talent like Mulroy being ambitious with album-length concepts when singles and EPs are what we’re getting more of. Let’s hope that he and this unit, especially fiddler Clarridge, keep pushing themselves to create for attentive audiences.