ZOE MULFORD "Roadside Saints" Azalea City
HERE'S THE ZOE Mulford formula: Isolate an idea -- say that soup stock is a metaphor for both the lifecycle and the creative process or that kids grow up or that you are the colors you wear. Then bring American folk-music culture -- with a goodly emphasis on the cheery offerings of the seminal book "Rise Up Singing" -- to bear on its development into a perfectly crafted song.
It's not that Mulford is formulaic; her songs benefit from the familiarity of their structures and melodies, and from Mulford's somewhat everyday voice, and if they don't offer earthshaking insights, they present eternal beliefs in a lively and pretty way.
"Our Lady of the Highways," which might as well have been the title track of "Roadside Saints," offers a meditation on a well-known statue that overlooks Interstate 95 on the way to Delaware: "Blessed be the children and the strangers / We are all together, we are all alone." Its sweet country harmonies are perfectly suited to its contemplative mood.
Mulford isn't the least bit credible as an irreverent Irish emigrant in "The American Wake," but she delivers her sprightly lyrics with an appealing lilt. Like the makers of "Stock" ("Open your mind up, see what you've got / Haul it on out before it starts to rot"), she does the best she can with what she has.
"Roadside Saints" does offer some tiny surprises, most of which come courtesy of producer John Jennings. His electric guitar and Rosie Shipley's violin sometimes cut through the songs like sudden, small alterations in the weather -- just enough of a change in the light to remind the listener how enjoyable this timeless sort of music can be when it's done not only sincerely but well.
-- Pamela Murray Winters