Don’t let the casual beats and chilled-out Cuban vibes fool you: Nick Mulvey is far more talented than he wants you to think. After quitting the Mercury-nominated jazz band Portico Quartet four years ago, Mulvey decided to return to his guitar and embark on a solo career as a folk and roots artist. Being a musical chameleon is a risky undertaking by anyone’s standard, but Mulvey’s debut album, First Mind, proves he hadn’t underestimated his versatility. Amongst the stunning guitar work, understated songwriting and exotic rum-infused languor, album single “Cucurucu” is the masterfully poetic highlight.
This gently-rocking alt-folk number begins with Mulvey’s a capella vocals, wandering slightly without the framework of instrumental accompaniment: “Softly in the evening dusk, a woman is singing to me / She takes me back down the vista of my years.” It is an uncertain beginning, an ambiguous one, and it is nigh on impossible not to want to find out what happens next. Happily, our curiosity is quickly satisfied. Slipping into our ears with beguiling simplicity, “Cucurucu” soon grabs us by the hand and has us running with childish exuberance through a sweet celebration of nostalgia.
Chuffing guitar, loping beats and snaking string lines soon build a lush jungle of textures, but it is still Mulvey’s laidback vocal delivery that is the guiding light through it all with “I see a child underneath the piano / And the boom of the tingling strings / Pressing the poised feet of his mother / Who smiles at him as she sings.” Never for a second can we doubt that Mulvey is painting a picture of an actual event; whether it happened to him or someone else is irrelevant, the imagery is so clearly and tenderly recounted. The lyrics of “Cucurucu” are, in fact, relatively few and repetitious, but their evocative accuracy is so spot-on that they grow meditative rather than tiresome. Again with the tasteful restraint, Nick.
After the “tricksy” music of Portico, Mulvey said he wanted to “pull the listener in,” promising that you could “come in and sit down and you’re never unsure what key we’re in.” It is this humble, savvy, less-is-more approach that makes Mulvey’s work so listenable, so beautiful and just so damn clever. Any musician can pull out all the stops, but it takes an artist to know just which ones he needs.