Reviewed in Singout! Vol. 54, No. 4

If you are ever dragged into a debate over ”what is folk music?”, I recommend that you say nothing, put Mustard’s Retreat onto a CD player, and press play. The long-time duo of Michael Hough and David Tamulevich embodies everything that folk music stands for.

First, their spirit is hopeful, heartfelt, and honest. On “Find A Way To Love,” written for the Appalachian dulcimer, their message is, “You’ve only this moment, reach out and own it, and find a way to love.” “ The First Flower” is a touching and allegorical song about the first daffodils of spring.

Second, they use music to create a community with their audiences. They cover Iris DeMent’s “ Let The Mystery Be” because it is the song they use to “ put their audiences at ease.” Way back when. On their 25th anniversary, they asked their friends to explain their success, and the answer was their audience rapport. As they put it, “ we walk on common ground.”

Finally, their songs are direct and meaningful. In “ Baby I’m Just Crazy About You.” The singer coyly suggests that “ we change the math of this equation and calculate ourselves something new.” And, in a wistful torch song, they ask “ Where Is My Heart Tonight?” They also hew close to tradition, adapting “Blow The Candle Out” and “ Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy,” and including a ghost song and a fishing song.

This is Mustard’s Retreat’s thirteenth album, and their first studio album since 2005. The songs don’t venture far from the foursquare ballad tradition, though the arrangements are spiced up smartly by a fiddler, a mandolin player, and an accordionist, all of whom are named David Mosher, who also produced the album. For those of us who know David Tamulevich primarily as a premier folk-music booking agent, hearing his music is like seeing a wonderfully unexpected new side of an old friend.

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