Various Artists - Ciao My Shining Star

There is an underlying theme of hope and longing that is also found in Mulcahy’s songs.

Label: Mezzotint Records

Rating: 9

When looking at the prodigious lineup of musicians that assembled to cover the songs of Mark Mulcahy on the benefit record ‘Ciao My Shining Star,’ (proceeds from the album go towards helping Mulcahy with the medical bills left over from the sudden passing of his wife last year, and to assist him in raising his twin-daughters) most eyes are likely drawn to the names of Thom Yorke, Michael Stipe, and Frank Black; and for good reason, as their contributions on this collection are really quite stellar and moving. But the album as a whole really works because of the other, perhaps lesser known artists who completely give themselves up to their versions of the tender, beautiful songs of the former Miracle Legion and Polaris front man. Superb contributions abound, from artists as diverse and unheralded as David Berkeley, Frank Turner and Hayden. Everyone involved adds their own distinct touch to their covers of these delicate, gorgeous songs, and all of these varied interpretations really allow this compilation to work, and hopefully will serve in providing a much broader spotlight to be cast on the gifted songwriting of Mark Mulcahy.

Thom Yorke’s electro-infused, beat driven cover of Miracle Legion’s ‘All For The Best’ gets the record off to a glorious start, with Thom’s brother Andy adding backing vocals to the track. The song builds in impact and sentimentality, before the stunning, stark emotion of the coda draws the song to a close. That track is quickly followed by another stunner, with the National’s wonderful take on the Polaris song ‘Ashamed Of The Story I Told.’ They imbue their own dark energy into the track, and manage to still keep the sentiment of the song intact while quickening the pace of the original, giving it more of a grimy streets of New York City type of vibe. The heavy hitters keep on coming, as Michael Stipe’s emotional, plaintive version of ‘Everything’s Coming Undone’ starts out steeped in electronica, but releases into a full-band, string laden explosion of passion and hope.

David Berkeley’s stark, affectionate version of ‘Love’s The Only Thing That Shuts Me Up,’ is the albums first real surprise (for who is really shocked that those other artists delivered phenomenal versions of those songs), with the relative newcomer giving the delicate, all-to-brief song an added emotion through his seasoned voice. Dinosaur Jr. manages to turn down their always at 11 volume ever so slightly, but they still manage to make quite a ruckus on their fiery cover of ‘The Backyard.’ Frank Black growls his way through a menacing, propulsive take on ‘Bill Jocko,’ which comes unhinged in all the right places and is certainly one of the album’s standouts. Andy Yorke’s band Unbelievable Truth serve up the title track of the collection, and bring an added warmth and heart to a song already bursting at the seems with spirit and tenderness. Butterflies Of Love bring a bit of Wilco-ish Americana twist to their jovial cover of ‘I Have Patience,’ and are another surprising discovery found on this record. Frank Turner’s impassioned rendering of ‘The Quiet One’ is yet one more revelation, with his delivery turning more and more intense as the songs grows in potency. It’s a wonderful take on a truly exceptional song.

Certainly not every song works on this record, due to the wrong artists covering ill-advised songs that don’t quite match their style, but the versions that do flourish are so strong and vibrant that it truly makes this record a smashing success. The Autumn Defense, featuring Wilco’s John Stirratt and Pat Sansone, does a rollicking version of ‘Paradise,’ which proves to be a rousing triumph, and Hayden’s wistful take on ‘Happy Birthday Yesterday’ is subtle and gorgeous. Mercury Rev adds their patented swirling atmospherics to the soaring ‘Sailors And Animals,’ and Elvis Perkins delivers a warm, doleful cover of the ‘She Watches Over Me,’ whose only real fault is it’s brevity. Sean Watkins actually closes out the album on another surprising note, delivering a credible and poignant version of the heartbreaking ‘A World Away From This One,’ ending the record on a strong, mournful note.

That downcast nature is threaded throughout this release, based not only on the moving songs themselves, but also due to the tragic cause that brought about the need for this album in the first place. But there is an underlying theme of hope and longing that is also found in Mulcahy’s songs, and it seems that feeling of hope is what the artists gravitate towards in their performances, leading the listener to believe that things will be all right for him in the future. And with friends like these willing to lend their talents in an effort to bring his brilliant songs to a wider audience and bring some financial stability to his family, hopefully what lies ahead for Mulcahy and his music will only help to alleviate the pain of his tragic loss.