In break from normal when it comes to reviewing, I'm going to start off this effort with the conclusion. Buy the damn thing and be done with it. There's no way that I or any critic/reviewer who claims to have any sensitivity to creative energy can in honestly "tell you what its all about" because we didn't pen the goddamn thing (for which I can't decide whether to be jealous or grateful and if that made sense than your halfway to understanding the problem faced by me anyway)
"Yonder!" as in "Look over yonder and what did I see, waiting for to carry me home?" "Calliope?" although not one of the heavenly hosts one's liable to see over the river Jordan on most days, less you’re a sun kissed poet or been blessed by Allah with the gift of verse, is in her way angelic enough. That's in spite of her habit of being as fickle as whatever people are as fickle as and as coy with her charms as a young thing raised by nuns set lose on the world with a yen to know a lot more than the sisters were willing and able to show her.
Calliope is of course inspiration, or at least one of the infamous muses who will periodically deign to whisper in a man or woman's ear in such a way that they will be infused with the desire to write, sing, dance, versify, and in all other ways possible, expose their soul for all the world to gaze upon.
Taken together, with the exclamation point and the question mark bracketing the muse, as they are in Yonder! Calliope? Aaron McMulan's debut CD on the brand new Ex Libris label out of London England tells you quite a bit about this young man from Belfast and the music that this CD tries to contain. One, he believes in the power of inspiration, two he is still hasn't quite been able to bring her, Calliope into focus.
But what he has produced on this wonderful debut are finely crafted, soulfully executed, songs that burst at the seams with humanity. Honest and clear-eyed, Aaron has looked at the world around him and found what he considers beautiful, and what he considers tawdry, and brought both to life in music.
Musically this album has the vitality of early punk, but instead of the musical mayhem associated with that genre, the energy has been given focus and intent. Its most obvious expression comes in the urgency and depth of emotion that can be heard in his voice on each song. Words pour out of his mouth like they are hot coals that have been born in the furnace of his soul.
At times his passion makes the words nigh on incomprehensible as they pile drive their way into your heart, but sometimes the mere sound words make have more meaning then if they were comprehended intellectually. Like tone poetry, the sound of his voice mixed with guitar communicates far more coherently then any so-called love song rendered by some pop Diva yearning for her true love.
But Aaron is more than just master of the frenetic - he also shows himself capable of wonderful tenderness. "She Is Waking" is one of the realest songs I've heard about waking up in bed next to someone. There's a vulnerability in his voice that lets you understand just how rare and precious a moment like that can and should be. But that same quality also lets you hear what could be his insecurity about what might or could happen in the days to come
The types of songs that Aaron has written for this album are some of the most difficult to pull off without coming across as being either self-pitying or a navel gazer. Far too many singers (and writers) think of introspection as a means for manipulating the audience instead of simply passing along ideas.
When he sings of regrets for past relationships it's in a way that articulates feelings that we've all had. In the song "Sinead In Savage Purple" he talks of saying her name and knowing that's all he'll ever have of her, but he'll take what he can get. While you may have never thought of somebody in just those terms, the sentiment is immediately comprehensible and strikes a chord of recognition within you that enables you to identify with the moment.
If you've ever wished that you were involved in one of those momentous moments of popular music history; seeing Bob Dylan the first time he played The Newport Folk Festival, watching Ronnie Hawkins play with The Band in a club, or seeing Joni Mitchell in a folk club in Toronto Ontario with Neil Young in the audience back in the early 60's, owning Yonder! Calliope? is your opportunity.
There is something about this disc that leaves me awestruck. I've not heard an album that has excited me in this manner since I heard my first Clash album years and years ago. Perhaps it's the energy and the honesty; maybe it's the intelligence and the emotional integrity. Or maybe it's the burning desire that I hear in Aaron McMulan's voice to speak the truth no matter what the cost.
Whatever the reason, and perhaps it will be different for everybody that listens, Yonder! Calliope? is not a disc to be missed. This quality of music doesn't come around that often and you will regret missing the opportunity of saying that you owned Aaron McMulan's first ever CD.
(Originally posted August 2007)
Richard Marcus is the author of two commissioned works published by Ulysses Press, editor in the books section of Blogcritics.org and contributor at Qantara.de. He has been writing since 2005 and his work has appeared in publications all over the world including the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine.