July 09--The last time Mark Mulcahy performed in New Haven was in December 2009, a little more than a year after the death of his wife, Melissa Rich Mulcahy.
It was a trying period for the musician. Left to take care of the couple's twin 3-year-old daughters by himself, Mulcahy struggled to make ends meet, let alone make music.
Fortunately, he had no shortage of admirers. Under the direction of Wesleyan grad Nathaniel Smalley, a cadre of artists -- Thom Yorke, Michael Stipe, The National and many others -- rallied to record a tribute/benefit album, "Ciao My Shining Star: The Songs of Mark Mulcahy."
Concurrently with the LP's release, Mulcahy's friends, including Rob DeRosa and Tom Hearn, organized a benefit concert for the singer/guitarist at Toad's Place.
"I wasn't anywhere at that moment," Mulcahy recalled in a phone interview last week. "It was very nice to have (the album) happen for a million reasons, not the least of which it jogged me out of being nowhere and made me feel like I was somewhere."
Though Mulcahy put away his guitar to tend to his fatherly duties, he never closed the door on his music career. Eight years on from the release of his last album, the longtime New Haven resident is back with a new LP and a national tour that takes him to Hamden's Spaceland Ballroom on Friday, July 12.
For Mulcahy, who now lives in Springfield, Mass., the performance is a homecoming of sorts -- a chance to reconnect with old friends and celebrate his return to the city that launched his career.
"I've spent some of the greatest years of my life in New Haven," said Mulcahy, who formed the influential band Miracle Legion there in 1984.
For those immersed in the Elm City music scene in the 1980s and 90s, Mulcahy is nothing short of a hero. Besides playing with Miracle Legion, Mulcahy booked popular bands, including R.E.M., at venues such as the Grotto and Ron's Place. When Miracle Legion broke up following a dispute with the band's label, Mulcahy -- under the guise of Polaris -- went on to record the theme song to the cult classic Nickelodeon show, "The Adventures of Pete & Pete."
Mulcahy's new album is a reflection of a man who's been wanting to let loose. Fast, freewheeling and aggressive, "Dear Mark J Mulcahy, I Love You" (Fire Records) marks an adventurous turn from the straightforward jangle pop of Mulcahy's Miracle Legion days.
"I can play better and keep up with myself better," said Mulcahy, who recorded the album with his producer/friend, Henning Ohlenbusch. "In the beginning, everything was slow because it was the best I could do. Now, I can do a lot more as a musician."
That being said, "Dear Mark" has a sense of economy -- not only did Mulcahy take a bare bones approach to the instrumentation, he didn't take long to make the album.
"I wanted to make a record that I wouldn't need 20 people to pull off," said Mulcahy, who recorded the 11-track LP in roughly 11 days.
The title of the album, meanwhile, is a line from a letter sent to Mulcahy by a close friend. After reading the sentence, Mulcahy thought it would be "a great way to sum up my feelings about all the support I've recieved" -- both from a group of admiring musicians and his friends in Connecticut.
"All these people have helped me, there's been a lot of good will," Mulcahy continued. "Hopefully, the show in Hamden is going to be a great one. Hopefully, I won't start weeping."
Spaceland Ballroom, 295 Treadwell St., Hamden. Friday, July 12, 8 p.m. $15-$12. www.spacelandballroom.com.
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