Despite the fact he’s from Scotland Mark Mulholland is a new name to Blabber’n’Smoke. Born in Glasgow he was involved in the Edinburgh scene in the eighties before becoming something of a globetrotter, residing for periods in Prague, Berlin, Paris, Haiti and currently Mali. On the course of his travels he became close to two other musicians in particular, James Finch and Rusty Miller, both of Jackpot, their shows sometimes colliding at festivals (in particular SXSW). Over the years the trio spoke about recording together and Finch worked with Mulholland on the latter’s 2011 solo album. Eventually the stars lined up and the trio recorded this album in California with Mulholland writing all songs (one a co write with the band), singing and playing guitar, bouzouki and banjo. Finch and Miller handled drums, bass, additional guitar and keyboards.
Collectively the trio have an eclectic CV as players having worked with the likes of Chuck Prophet, Jason Lytle, Nikki Sudden, Captain Sensible, dEUS and Tony Allen alongside their own work in Two Dollar Bash, Impure Thoughts, Jackpot and Nightgown. Admittedly the latter are hardly household names so it would be somewhat amiss to describe this collective as a super group but they have certainly paid their dues and there’s an undeniable sense of fun here as the three pals finally get to let loose in a studio.
Overall the album is a collection of songs that do recall the likes of Nikki Sudden, a loose limbed amalgamation of The Stones and The Byrds, Mulholland’s voice reedy but borne aloft by strong melodies and some fine playing. Guitars jangle, twang and erupt while there are faint echoes of Dylan, Big Star, garage rock and Paisley Underground here and there. Mulholland proves himself a dab hand at writing, his words perfectly attuned to the louche subterranean worlds of songsters such as Lou Reed and Kevin Ayers. Ayers in particular comes to mind on the late night ambience of Fucked Up Again, a cocktail jazz pastiche that discards the janglier rock’n’roll ambience of the album while Hoodathunkit, a fuzz driven scuzzy riff of a song with distorted vocals recalls Ayer’s own pastiche of the Velvet Underground on Stranger In Blue Suede Shoes from his excellent whatevershebringswesing album.
The album opens with the effervescent garage fuzz of Ebb and Flow before the wiry Give Me A Ride with a Dylan & The Hawks like mercurial slink flows into view. Dreaming Of Trains surely is somewhat ironic, the title and delivery recalling Robyn Hitchcock, another spangled guitar jangler, if it’s not deliberate then it’s fine evidence of Happenstance. Listening to it again right now visions of Green on Red also swim into view. Half the fun of the album is in figuring out what band each song reminds one of especially if like Mulholland the eighties were the touch paper. He hits the target time and time again with the slightly awesome Trams and Trains and Aeroplanes standing out, wasted elegance indeed with a shambolic rock’n’roll heart while there’s some tumbledown country melancholy on Floods Of Memory.