Mutlu - Livin It (2008)

Mutlu
Mutlu_Livin_It_Album.jpg
Click on CD cover
to listen or purchase

Thanks to the super-efficient promo department at Manhattan Records, I've been living with Livin' It for quite some time now and my conclusion remains unchanged from the first time I played it through three months ago: Livin' It is a superior major label debut for Philadelphia-based artist Mutlu. If Livin' It was a vinyl album, I wouldn't even have to lift the needle up except to flip the record over or replay any one of the album's ten solid, hook-laden songs. In fact, its 40-minute running time is just begging for a vinyl release.

Thanks to the super-efficient promo department at Manhattan Records, I've been living with Livin' It for quite some time now and my conclusion remains unchanged from the first time I played it through three months ago: Livin' It is a superior major label debut for Philadelphia-based artist Mutlu. If Livin' It was a vinyl album, I wouldn't even have to lift the needle up except to flip the record over or replay any one of the album's ten solid, hook-laden songs. In fact, its 40-minute running time is just begging for a vinyl release.

Musically, Mutlu treads familiar ground for anyone even casually interested in soul music. While he doesn't bring anything innovative to the mix, per se, his debut positions him as a highly adept songwriter and player. He's an excellent tunesmith whose compelling words paint vivid pictures in the mind. "The coffee's as dark as my dreams last night" on "Hello Morning," for example, is just one of the many clever similes that he engineers in his lyrics.

Mutlu builds on the tradition of artists like Bill Withers, who cast their guitar-based rhythm and blues in laid-back grooves with an unpretentious vocal presence. What Mutlu might lack in vocal range he compensates for in phrasing. His honey-dipped voice is a conduit for joy and melancholy, hope and sadness. Thankfully, he doesn't resort to the histrionics of his melissma-dependent contemporaries.

Much of the appeal of Livin' It is also steeped in the first-rate production by T-Bone Wolk, who's performed with the Hall & Oates band for more than two decades. He keeps Mutlu's voice up in the mix and washes it with solid instrumentation. Wolk invokes a quality-over-quantity principle, refraining from any impulse to overproduce the songs. Time will be kind to this album: it will sound just fine ten years from now inasmuch as it could have been recorded ten years ago and retained its appeal.

Wolk enlists an impressive line-up of musicians that complement Mutlu's singing and playing. Amos Lee, whose voice doesn't sound entirely dissimilar to Mutlu's, guests on "Make It There" while G. Love adds a rap to the reggae-influenced "Shaky Ground." Daryl Hall's unmistakable Philly-soul inflected voice weaves into the rock and reggae mix of "See What It Brings." The album ends on a somewhat somber note with Raheem DeVaughn joining on "In Your Heart." The two singers gently intone "If there's love in your heart/I hope you find it before you tear yourself apart," bringing hope to the "sinking feeling" that shapes the song.

"Mama's Not Coming Home" is a touching character study. Mutlu tells the story of a single mom working multiple jobs for her son. Instead of drowning the song in tears and treacle, Mutlu opts for a melody that winds circuitously around a buoyant rhythm. The song takes an interesting turn towards the last minute. "Are you coming home tonight, mama?," Mutlu sings softly with beautiful flourishes of falsetto fluttering through a dreamy musical background. It's a moment of musical alchemy, made even more special because it occurs so unexpectedly following the folksy strumming that marks the first three minutes of the song.

Livin' It should establish Mutlu as an industry fixture and will hopefully furnish more opportunities for him to grow and experiment. In the meantime, T-Bone Wolk has presented Mutlu in the best light possible, bringing fans of acoustic soul one of the more generous musical gifts of 2008.

By Christian John Wikane

 
Album of the Month - Plunky & Oneness - "Afroclectic"
Choice Cut - Chris Jasper - "For The Love of You"
Featured Album - Jeffrey Dennis - "Lovin On You"
Featured Album - Leon Ware - "Rainbow Deux"

Leave a comment!