Music Reviews
The Possum in the Driveway

Mark Mulcahy The Possum in the Driveway

(Mezzotint) Buy it from Insound Rating - 7/10

Nothing can stop Mark Mulcahy. It’s been an odyssey for the offbeat songwriter to complete The Possum in the Driveway, a four year-long project that was repeatedly derailed due to many unforeseen events. But each fresh start brought a clearer viewpoint for Mulcahy, seeing as his latest solo endeavor sorts out many stylistic forms with a precociousness that matches his onstage persona. One of Mulcahy’s strongest assets is how he amplifies the simplest statements in a manner that sounds essential, where it’s hard to turn away from the everyday subjects he colors with his dry wit. It’s a given that there’s a loveliness in how Mulcahy’s granular phrasing coalesces with Miracle Legion’s jangly melodies, but time and time again, he’s proven that it’s on his solo endeavors where he is able to access his full potential.

Some streaks of his past work are exposed on album opener Stuck on Something Else, a stripped-down lullaby where he lays his emotions bare with careful introspection. It’s an apt antecedent to the measured acoustic ballad of 30 Days Away, two songs that spiritually allude to the spare, yet tuneful allure of 1997’s Fathering. But that’s where the comparisons end - the bulk of The Possum really takes on many directions, some touchingly familiar and some wildly distinctive. “Hello / hello / hello again / what are you doing here,” a velvety-sounding Mulcahy expresses on I Am the Number 13, as if providing a circumspect welcome to a secret club while some Ethiopian-inspired jazz plays on the background. The Fiddler is another freewheeling song that exhibits how Mulcahy’s more soulful pursuits are still intact, putting forth a hoppity skippity demeanor that aptly demonstrates how someone like Dan Bejar may have stolen a page or two from the Mulcahy playbook.

As The Possum progresses, Mulcahy continues to veer in many unexpected turns with hardly a dull moment. Sometimes they can also be humurous. Hollywood Never Forgives aims to shake up the strict musical formalities and vocal stylings of doo wop, all the while evoking the childlike delight of Harry Nilsson at his silliest. But these flash-in-the-pan experiments sometimes don't quite fit, like on Cross the Street, a smooth rocker where an awkwardly-prim Mulcahy adjusts his signature baritone like he’s ready to take on the yacht club circuit instead of the usual dim lit venue. But thankfully, there’s also some of that classic strumming that will always define all of Mulcahy’s oeuvre: the leisurely Americana of Conflicted Interest features one of his most lovingly evocative vocal performances, while the shambolic gallop of Jimmy captures that same sense of joyful elation that converted nineties teens into fans of his offshoot project Polaris for life.

But nothing quite prepares you for album centerpiece Geraldine, a broodingly romantic affirmation where Mulcahy confidently ploughs new ground. It’s a full realization of all the jazz structures peppered throughout The Possum, crafted with a masterful elegance that gives new life to everything Mulcahy had done at this point. At first, it’s a bit off-putting how much Mulcahy has extended his reach, also considering its numerous shapeshifting vocal qualities, but once you recalibrate your expectations you’re left with an album that bravely looks ahead. It’s a fond return riddled with unbounded creativity, and could very well be his definitive statement.