For a man who has spent most of his career as a saxophonist, composer and producer in more avant-garde and psychedelic circles, Always All Around You seems to follow some classic and conformist lines. Not that that is in anyway a bad thing, of course it isn’t, the very definition of the term classic is an “outstanding example of a particular style; something of lasting worth or with a timeless quality” and that also tends to imply accessibility, familiarity and working in comfort zones. This second album sees Norman Salant adopting the mantle of acoustic guitar slinging, singer-songwriter, one who neatly treads a path that the likes of Paul Simon, James Taylor and Neil Young have left their sonic footprints on.
Eclectic is the word that easily applies itself to Bill Mullarky sumptuous and comprehensive debut album but unlike many who seem content to play to their record collection and try to revive a music scene or re-create a bygone sound, here he weaves those older musical strands into interesting new patterns. Stare at these brave and subtle new designs and you will eventually pick out the various strands and musical colours that he used to weave it. The vibrant reds of new wave, the subtle pastel hues of dreamy psychedelia, the palatable greens of pop and the prominent elemental blue of strange folk experimentations.
On first listen you may be forgiven for assuming that this is an album to be filed in the freak, acid-folk purist drawer, and yes there is a lot of 70’s Haight-Ashbury, re-appropriated folk sounds and west coast psychedelic vibes running through the songs, but by the second or third time around you will realise that for the most part this is fantastically subversive world pop with songs such as So I’ll Go reminiscent of Paul Simon’s Graceland’s period. At it’s sweetest it wanders into James Taylors commercial folk territory, at its weirdest it gives the likes of Talking Heads a run for their money, it throws around old blues licks and re-invents alt-country making it strangely both more country and more alt at the same time.
It does feel like Bill has put all his eclectic eggs in one basket here, thankfully charm and quirk act as a cohesive force and the wandering nature of the musical thought processes is smoothed over accordingly. It does make you wonder what he will follow this album up with, it could (and surely will) go literally anywhere, and I for one can’t wait.