“We've had a lot of feedback and positive reviews. Working as a duo is somewhat new to me. Nothing ever received any feedback, positive or negative. A lot of shows have popped with this incredible enthusiasm. It’s tough to know why people respond to it.”
Waterford native Anthony Mulcahy seems mystified at times over the appeal of Those Sensible Shoes, but one listen of their glorious eponymous debut album should eliminate any doubt as to why listeners are responding so enthusiastically.
Mulcahy and New York City native Rachel Stern make up Those Sensible Shoes, a duo that formed in the summer of 2014 after meeting at a Big City Folk event. Their chemistry was instantaneous and they started writing and performing together soon thereafter.
Beginning with a cover of “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” by the National, recorded in the backroom of a Brooklyn bar, they soon moved on to writing their own original music.
Stern grew up listening to The Band, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, which explains the high craft of confessional songwriting on this disc.
Mulcahy (guitar and vocals) has been writing and performing all over Ireland, the U.K. and the U.S. for over a decade, with two solo albums under his belt before this project with Stern. He has been most influenced by David Gray and Glen Hansard, who he had the pleasure of performing with in the past. He has also performed with Mundy, Mark Geary, David Wax Museum and many more.
Mulcahy brings his musical experience, deft guitar playing and soulful vocals to the band, and Stern’s breathy, childlike voice is an endearing foil to Mulcahy’s prairie home baritone. The harmonies brush over the listener and raise the occasional goose bump, like a spring breeze on the skin. The gorgeous prose on “Seeds” is an album standout:
“Our families lost and gone/backs broken on the road/we dug our roots in the soil/new families we sowed/now it’s sink or swim/swallowed up in a second/but there’s room to grow/they didn’t know that we were seeds.”
Mulcahy reasons that the fact that he can play to his strengths is central to the success in Those Sensible Shoes.
“I met Rachel at an open mic night,” he explains. “I was intrigued by her style of playing and writing. She listens to a lot of Band and Leonard Cohen. I came from more of a traditional music background.
“I had to work a lot harder on lyrics than music. I’ve had time grounding words. Melodies are always floating around my head. From the beginning, we had a straight foundation. If one of us thought the other was writing garbage, we’d tell one another.”
There’s no garbage to be found on this fine collection of sparse folk gems. The occasional fiddle adds a dramatic dash, as it does to brilliant effect on the pensive “The Trick.”
There’s a sense of eavesdropping into a rich musical conversation when this duo trades lines. “Tired of dragging these heels/from another empty cup/please don’t glorify for me/its finally numb here at the top,” Mulcahy sings at the beginning of the bleak lullaby called “Arthur’s Dream”
“As I watched you sail by/the captain of your ship/not a care in the world/on this never ending trip,” Stern coos in reply.
“I’m in my mid thirties and have been performing since 4,” Mulcahy says. “Rachel is somewhat new to it. I have years of studio experience and she doesn’t. She is great at cleaning up lyrics and melodies. So, my experience and her newness has just been this perfect balance in the chemistry of the duo.”
Those Sensible Shoes is a winning chemistry indeed, one you can see for yourself when they play with Clive Barnes, and Luan Parle this Sunday, May 22 at 7:15 p.m. at the Scratcher Sessions, (209 East 5th Street, New York). Visit www.thosesensibleshoes.com.