“Long distance bike rides are a terrible, terrible idea,” Peter Mulvey told the Jammin’ Java audience Thursday night. He should know; he’s coming to the end of his sixth annual, 14-city bike tour, in which he arrives at every show on a very cool looking German-made recumbent bike. “I’d like to thank you for living in a flat place,” he added.
Mulvey is an engaging performer, wonderful singer, and impressive guitar player, all of which made for a very entertaining show on Thursday. Mixing old and new material with a great array of covers throughout his 20 songs, Mulvey covered a lot of ground and had his audience spellbound.
His latest album, The Good Stuff is a collection of what he calls “the great American songbook;” in addition to classic American artists like Bobby Charles and Thelonious Monk, Mulvey adds modern songwriters such as Tom Waits and Joe Henry. Mulvey performed his interpretations of Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows” and the Duke Ellington staple “Mood Indigo,” but kept the rest of the covers a surprise. His version of Waits’ “Jockey Full of Bourbon” (not the Waits song that appears on The Good Stuff, actually) sounded like John Hammond’s recent version but with darker vocal delivery and superior guitar work. Mulvey also threw in a cover of Randy Newman’s “Sigmund Freud’s Impersonation of Albert Einstein” after telling the audience how the statue of Christopher Columbus at Union Station reminded him of Newman’s song “Great Nations of Europe.”
But it was the originals that stood out. Classics like “Girl in the Hi-Tops,” “Shirt,” and “On the Road to Mallow,” were spectacular, and Mulvey clearly doesn’t tire of singing them. “Morning Rain” had a Lyle Lovett feel to it. “Just Before the War” was a spellbinding song of innocence lost that belied its humorous introduction (“Anybody here know anyone who’s grizzled?” asked Mulvey, before telling a story about an uncle that fit the adjective).
Another great moment was when Mulvey was joined by show opener Anne Heaton for newer song called “If You Shoot A Milkman?” (That’s not a typo – Mulvey assured the crowd the title was in the form of a question.) Heaton, who in her set alternately channeled Regina Spektor and Eva Cassidy as she quietly played her piano, has a great new album out called Honeycomb. Hers was a wonderful introduction to a great night of music.