Soul comes in many shapes and sounds, and comes at you from a hundred different angles and places. Philadelphia's got an overabundance of it. Always had (thank you Gamble & Huff), always will. Must be something in the water. Mutlu Onaral must have drunk a whole lot of that water growing up. The 27 year old singer, instrumentalist and composer, known to everyone as Mutlu, has always sounded as if he's been drunk on the Philly punch that makes the funk flow. From the intimate high and passionate lows of his voice, to the friendly wordplay of the lyrics, to melodies soaked in percussion, soaring string sounds and the flicker of the Fender Rhodes, it's as if you're hearing Stephen Stills having breakfast with Stevie Wonder, lunch with Steely Dan and dinner with Daryl Hall; yet all in a unique groovy setting courtesy of pop's newest most iconic voice.
With Philly being the melting pot it is, the spirit of collaboration is what makes Mutlu's new album Livin' It whole. "That sense of unity is what's behind the album," he says. But to make Livin' It raw and silken, it was important to keep it tight. So Mutlu got multi-instrumentalist/producer T Bone-Wolk - famous for doing those things with Elvis Costello and Hall & Oates - to do as much with him. In fact, save for Steve Holley playing drums, Sharon Little and Jazzfatnastees' Mercedes Martinez singing backgrounds and a few friends collaborating on vocals; all the music played on Livin' It is T-Bone and Mutlu. That reflects the intimacy of tracks like the tender plea of "Think It Over" and the bounce of "Upside." Once you got things nice and intimate, then you can bring in your pals. Mutlu pulled in old friends Amos Lee, who co-wrote and sings on "Make It There," and G. Love, who recorded his vocals and harmonica on "Shaky Ground" in-between dropping his kid at school and leaving for his tour, as well as new pal Raheem De Vaughn who duets with Mutlu on the caramel-coated "In Your Heart," the album's closer. Then of course there's Daryl Hall, who sings with Mutlu on the Philly-cream-cheese smooth, "See What It Brings." "Hall & Oates were a huge influence," says Mutlu of the cosmic connection between them. "In the same way we had that immediate musical and personal connection, what with both of us growing up in Philly; he seems to have an immediate connection with my song." It shows. But Mutlu doesn't need collaborators to bring out the mistymoods and slippery sunshine of his own voice. While "Hello Morning" radiates that first feeling of having to make sense of a bad situation through its aching-to-quaking lullaby vocals, "Think It Over" is his blessed out appreciation of all those things you have rather than all those things you want.
But it's the title track (co-written with producer/songwriter Ojike) that radiates all that it is Mutlu - something that sends forth nothing but the positive in its ebullient vocals and brightly jazzy melody. "It's my summer song - always stay up, never get down," says Mutlu. "Happiness will return again." With Mutlu's Livin' It around, happiness will never leave you.
9-14 Tucson, AZ w/ Amos Lee
9-15 Phoenix, AZ
9-18 Austin, TX w/ Amos Lee
9-20 Dallas, TX
9-21 Houston, TX
9-22 New Orleans, LA
See What It Brings feat. Daryl Hall
In Your Heart feat. Raheem DeVaughn