This Way or That?
Flat Five Press and Recording Company (FFP-1139)
Blue Mule possesses considerable picking, singing, and songwriting talent. Tom Ohmsen, mandolin and vocals, delivers no less than eight original songs. The band displays all the indicators of being tremendous live. A couple of the cuts on Blue Mule’s CD This Way or That? demonstrate how good the band can be in studio, especially a sensitive cover of the Bob Marley/Eric Clapton classic “I Shot The Sherriff” and Ohmsen’s stunningly lovely swing of “Appalachian Breeze.”
Unfortunately, This Way or That? proves far too apt a title. This record simply lacks the direction and focus needed for a successful release. Four different lead singers suggests that the material is all over the map. Their most common approach is pleasant but unspectacular bluegrass with drums that reminds me of the bluegrass mini-sets 1970s country rock bands sometimes did live. From there, Blue Mule meanders through reggae, folk, Celtic, and swing in a way that makes for fun concerts and bad albums. Then we have “Etiquette,” an unlistenable and unfortunate foray into hip-hop grass, one of the ten worst songs I have ever heard. The members of Blue Mule have far more vocal and picking ability than those of Gangstagrass, but none of the latter’s conceptual genius for how to fuse the two forms.
It is not just talent, but the way how you use it.
Flat Five Press and Recording Company (18 East Main St.; Salem, VA 24153; http://www.flat5.com) AM