October 1999

Mulehead - The Gospel Accordion II
HTS Recordings HTS 97692
Released: 1999

by Marc Mickelson

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

[Reviewed on CD]Who is Mulehead and why does The Gospel Accordion II deserve time in your CD player? Mulehead’s four members call Little Rock, Arkansas home and conjure comparisons to Wilco, Uncle Tupelo and other "no depression" bands as well as the fat part of the alt.country crowd. But Mulehead is more melodic and witty -- "between the Holy Spirit and a good buzz," as lead singer Kevin Kerby says. I can’t disagree. The Gospel Accordion II, clever title and all, is the work of a bunch of Southerners who look at themselves, laugh a little, think a little more, and then make music about it.

The Gospel Accordion II is the band’s second collection, and it makes the whole cutting-a-CD gig seem loose and easy -- by design, of course. The songs are guitar-driven and tuneful, paeans to bluegrass, country blues and electrified folk. The disc gives glimpses of Southern life -- of going to church, bumming a brew (or two), the wages of sin, and the importance of redemption -- without turning sentimental. "Rearrange" is a wry take on religion and drunkenness -- and a possible connection between the two. "Dig My Grave" is a hip and electrified set of after-death directions, a spiritual of sorts with some good-and-loud guitar work. There are introspective moments soaked with insight ("Glad to be Here") and unrequited love ("One of These Days"), the observations always simply stated and sometimes a bit askew. The playing on The Gospel Accordion II is solid, and Kevin Kerby on lead vocals sounds a little like Steve Earle, who I bet would enjoy this album.

I’m not surprised there’s a short instrumental on The Gospel Accordion II hidden two minutes after the last track. This disc gives up its secrets that way -- through investigation. Is it a dirge to let us know that things go on even after the end, or just an Easter egg from some guys who have fun making music? I’ve been playing The Gospel Accordion II again and again to figure it out.