By Brian Goslow
Thirty-four years is a long time to do anything but David Tamulevich and Michael Hough, who have been singing together since 1974, still look forward to their next memorable musical moment with youthful enthusiasm.
They discovered their mutual love of folk music while working as cooks at the Brown Jug Cafe in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where both attended the University of Michigan. Both loved folk’s social nature and the warmth of the community built around it and figured, “Why not give it a shot?” They worked up three songs to perform together at the nearby Ark Coffeehouse. “It was a good combination,” Tamulevich said. “I was so impressed by Michael’s exuberance and love of performing.” Soon afterwards, they were full-time performers, playing bookstores, colleges, concerts and pubs.
They took their name from “Mustard’s Retreat,” an early song written after local performer Nancy Mustard taught Tamulevich a slide guitar chord he turned into an instrumental composition.
The Ark Coffeehouse is featured heavily on their latest CD, “There... and Back Again: Snapshots from Life on the Road” (Yellow Room Records), a collection of live recordings made between 1986 and 2005 at coffeehouse and radio stations. The live format captures aspects of their music you might not catch in a studio recording, from the delicate sound of their guitar strings or the heartfelt sound of Hough’s voice on “Handfasting.” The duo’s warm 1960s-like coffeehouse feel encourages you to sing, clap or stomp along.
“Most of the stuff, we hadn’t recorded or we had different versions of them,” Tamulevich said. “We listened to old cassette tapes and found versions of songs we did live but didn’t release. They’re great performances with great interaction with the audience. People always talk about our interaction with the crowd and here it was. You can hear them laughing and participating.”
Mustard’s Retreat CD liner notes are like newsletters, little pieces of how a song came together, how it was recorded or enough background on the person who wrote it to send you off in search of more of their music. The live disc includes compositions by David Bromberg, Huddie Ledbetter, Steve Gillette and Tom Campbell and a song Tamulevich co-wrote with Garnet Rogers.
“We’ve got so much material on our own, but we’ve never done a show of all original material; We try to pick songs we really care about, said Tamulevich, whose “day job” as vice president of artist development at The Roots Agency puts him in position to find the best possible songs to record. “We recorded songs by Greg Brown and John Gorka that they never recorded but I had the opportunity to hear their demos because of my position as a booking agent.”
More then anything, Mustard’s Retreat are storytellers and preservationists of folk’s oral tradition. “It’s a process I’m thrilled to be part of,” Tamulevich said. “You can do a nostalgia show but the best folk show evokes that nostalgia in contemporary terms. I think a strength we have is we were there in the ‘60s as teenagers. I think of us as troubadours.”
Mustard Retreat’s previous release, the studio recorded “MR7,” features a warm sound and heart-tugging images, some about good times, others about relationships since faded, and a few hitting right at current events – even if they had been written 30 years ago.
“Whatcha Gonna Go” couldn’t be more timely, with Hough singing, “Whatcha gonna do when there’s no more food and your campfire gives you away? When the schoolrooms and the hospitals are all closed and broken down?” The song was written in 1978. “We always meant to record it but it didn’t make the cut,” Tamulevich said. “It is timely and relevant today.”
“Here Comes the Snow” deals with the genuine human aspects of the ups and downs of relationships, as opposed to the fantasized version usually put forth in pop music.
Meanwhile, “(I’m Singing) State of Mind” feature lyrics like “Lord, I hate mosquitoes. Black flies are even worse. The flies of Lake Superior are the very Devil’s curse/ but when you take the bitter, and you mix it with the sweet/ down she goes like a can of Stroh’s, and Lord it can’t be beat” send you back to your fondest campground memories.
“You’re sharing your experiences, good and bad,” Tamulevich said. “We’re telling stories in all our lives and find the common ground where one plus one equal three. We go across the spectrum of the human experience, from the ridiculous to the heartbreaking.” All originate in real experiences.
Tamulevich wasn’t sure who might join Mustard’s Retreat onstage at the Nashua River Valley Folk Festival on August 10 at the Pierce Homestead in Lancaster. “It depends on who’s there,” he said. “Susan Werner knows some of our stuff. Gandalf Murphy & the Slambovian Circus of Dreams are there and we’ve played with them. It depends what we have time to go over.
“We never know what we’re going to do. It depends on the audience and what we get asked to play. We try to honor requests and it depends on what’s going on it the world and the audience.”
(© copyright Community Newspaper Company/Gatehouse Media New England 2008)