Review: Good Fortune, “Good Fortune”

Good Fortune, “Good Fortune”

If you know the name Kelsey McNulty, it is likely from her work in the past decade as a side person with acts including Great Lake Swimmers, The Boxcar Boys, and Ben Caplan. In her new project – Good Fortune’s self-titled album – McNulty steps to the forefront, and the results are surprising!  And good!

To categorize the songs on the album as “retro-pop” is fitting; the term at least starts to give the listener a sense of the stylistic territory covered here, though it suggests a sound that is merely derivative of the past. But, while “Good Fortune” is clearly influenced by 1960s pop, the project manages to sound and feel fresh and updated. The eleven concise and varied tracks on the album make for a quirky and fun listening experience, and I’ll highlight three of the best tracks here: “Feelin It,” “You’ll Make It,” and “I Know.”

In the album’s lead single, “Feelin It,” the bass steps forward to carry melody over a foundation of sustained synth. McNulty’s vocal delivery is Lisa Loeb-esque in its heartfelt and straightforward quality, and she brings an earnest longing to know what is wrong as she sings the lyrics, “I can only guess when you’re feelin’ it,” and, in what are among the best lines on the album, “you are such a gift when you’re feelin’ it, so I try to break the code.” She paints the picture of a desire to help a struggling person you care deeply about, framed in the complexity of relationships. Musically, the chorus has a breezy summer vibe and the verses are reminiscent of the quieter moments of Fleet Foxes or Feist. This is the lead single for good reason.

Good Fortune

The album’s quasi-title track, “You’ll Make It,” is a sweet piano ballad that reminds me of a cross between The Beatles’ “Golden Slumbers” and the dreamier reaches of work of The Weepies and of Ben Folds. The lyrics are gently encouraging, lilting, and hopeful. It’s an invitation to just breathe, and to know that reconciliation and better times are possible.

“I Know” is the album’s lead-off track, and it sets the tone for the feel of the album as a whole. There is a decidedly European feel here; featuring a bossa nova vibe to the music and lyrics that evokes Kings of Convenience; and there is the call and response vocal stylings that recall classic girl groups. Sprinkled about sparingly are charming touches of xylophone and synth, particularly in bridge. In a tune that clocks at less than 3 minutes, McNulty and company communicate a vibe that whets the listener’s appetite for the wide range of audio flavors that the album presents.

And what a variety of audio flavors! A variety of songs with lyrics entirely in French – “Mon Coeur,” the western-sounding “Mémoire,” and the spoken vocals of “Aire” – that find McNulty effortlessly making the transition between languages. The acoustic, loping, jangly “Time Does No Favors” – the nearest reference to McNulty’s work with Great Lake Swimmers – covers some of the sonic territory that Madison Cunningham specializes in. The beachy, staccato organ found in “Island of Hope.” And the whole production wraps up with “Fantômes,” a lyric-less – but not vocal-less – tune that sounds like it would be at home in an episode of the original “Star Trek” series. You can imagine end credits rolling over it to close out this audio expedition. With “Good Fortune,” Kelsey McNulty has planted a flag in the music scene for her own original music, and it is well worth the time to explore.

Matt Wheeler is a Lancaster County, PA-based singer, songsmith, stage-banter conversationalist, husband, & special-needs father. And an avid vinyl record collector, a purveyor of random facts, & tour-er of Canada (southern Ontario is a favorite destination). Ever since being introduced to Great Lake Swimmers' music through Pandora in about 2009, he has had an appreciation for Canadian music.

Matt's songs & stories, including his classic literature-based project "Wonder of It All," can be found at www.mattwheeleronline.com.

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