Andy Mullen's official website labels him "folk music's
newest smart ass," but the title doesn't capture the breadth
of his talent. As advertised, Mullen is a shameless class clown,
but he is also a perceptive storyteller, an impeccable musician,
and a versatile songwriter. His second album, I Wish My Name
Were Jack, ultimately relies more on humanity than humor.
It is as organic and genuine as the musical traditions from which
it is drawn.
Mullen skillfully skirts the line between comedy and poetry and,
outside of the occasional forced joke, he rarely misses a step.
The opening track, "Salt Water Jam" is simple and stunning
acoustic folk. The song also previews many of the album's recurring
themes: travel, love, and a preoccupation with alcohol. The following
track, "I'm Sorry Jeannie," is a not-so-subtle introduction
to the exaggerated social misfits that appear frequently in Mullen's
music. The song's narrator gives a lengthy, unconvincing apology
for his drunken exploits at a party. Still, at its most solemn,
I Wish My Name Were Jack is heartbreaking. "Brooklyn
Rain," which sketches a conversation between a world-weary
father and his son, brings the album to a reflective close. Whether
he does it with a joke or the subtlety of a poet, all of Mullen's
songs manage to create hope from sorrow.
I Wish My Name Were Jack plays like a portrait of a complex,
skilled songwriter with a commitment to his craft. Mullen produced
the album and played a staggering array of instruments, including
guitar, piano, accordion, and mandolin. And, for an album with
such drastic shifts in mood, nothing feels forced. Even when he
pushes his joke-a-minute persona too far - "The Doghouse"
is the most trying example - Mullen writes and performs with such
sincerity that those moments are easy to overlook.
Mullen's eclectic talents as both a songwriter and a performer
suggest that I Wish My Name Were Jack may just be the beginning.
After all, Mullen recently left his job as a middle school English
teacher to dedicate himself to his music. His idiosyncratic songs
may never make him a household name, but he should have no trouble
living comfortably on the fringes of music stardom for decades
to come. In a world where albums like this are increasingly scarce,
that's something to celebrate.
1. Salt Water Jam
2. I'm Sorry Jeannie
3. Keep Real Busy
4. Vincent Van Gogh's Bad Ear
5. My Name's Ray
6. Bottle On The Shelf
7. Make Me A Man
8. Old Route Six
9. I Wish My Name Was Jack
10. Footsteps On The Ceiling
11. The Doghouse
12. Brooklyn Rain
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