Regular readers of this site know that we are unabashed admirers of Miranda Mulholland, who in recent years has become a formidable policy advocate for her fellow musicians as well as the founder and music director of the delightful Muskoka Music Festival. We’ve also had the opportunity to hear her live several times as part of Harrow Fair, her duo with Andrew Penner, a tour de force of energy and sound that never fails to amaze.
With her new album, “By Appointment or Chance,” we have the chance to hear Miranda’s quieter (but no less passionate) side, brought to life in a set of songs recorded live off the floor last summer in Twyford, England, with three other musicians (Tara Minton, harp/vocals; Joe Phillips, bass/vocals; Tali Trow, producer/guitar/vocals). Here, with the space and atmosphere that her colleagues provide, both Miranda’s spectacular voice and tremendous violin chops are on full display and can shine in all their glory.
If you come to this album expecting a sound similar to Harrow Fair’s, prepare yourself for a very different experience. Like the English countryside, this album rolls gently over the ears – but still leaves the listener awed. I first heard “Heart Like a Wheel” on an album by the Irish band The Corrs some years ago; Miranda’s interpretation of it here is much more rueful, subdued but still resonant with pain. “Peg and Awl,” as Miranda points out in her album notes, is more timely than ever in this era of ‘technological advancement’ (which continues to steal the livelihood of so many…).
“The Old Churchyard,” a reflection on that ending that comes to all of us, shimmers here, not only with Miranda’s violin, but also with Tara Minton’s harp (which provides a gorgeous counterpoint throughout the album). The perfect synthesis of harp and violin continues in “Bar Rage,” a tune that first appeared on Miranda’s first album “Whipping Boy” but reappears here as the shadowed reading of the original version, quieter but certainly with no less energy.
If, as Miranda says, she is a ‘total nerd’ for setting a poem by Tennyson to music (it being the only one from Lucy Maud Montgomery’s ‘Anne of Green Gables’ books that Loreena McKennitt had not already composed), I must be nearly an equivalent nerd. “Crossing the Bar” (which appears in “Anne’s House of Dreams,” for those who care to look) has long been my favorite of Tennyson’s poems, and this musical treatment absolutely does it justice.
“Black Diamond” is perhaps the most rhythmically upbeat song on the album – if you don’t have this song stuck in your head after you listen to the album, it’s possible you may need resuscitation… it’s that good. The pace continues with a medley of two instrumentals, “Hunt of Zax/Pirate Rémi,” that should also have you tapping your feet (or fingers, if you’re driving whilst listening). Concluding the album, “The Parting Glass” continues a strand of wistful reflection on endings that threads throughout the project – it’s completely fitting that a song often sung at the end of an evening with friends has been chosen to end this, Miranda’s recording with friends.
Many artists experience long and fruitful careers on a fairly narrow track, hewing to a particular sound either that they prefer or that they’ve found their listeners want to hear. Only a select few have the courage, the versatility, and in particular the skill to successfully explore a vast array of musical styles and to bring their listeners along for the ride. Miranda Mulholland is one such artist. “By Appointment or Chance” is a captivating listening experience and I look forward to whatever musical path Miranda chooses to explore next, be it a similar exploration of traditional music, a blowout affair like Harrow Fair, or something else entirely. I have every confidence that it will be exceptional.
You can listen to “By Appointment or Chance” on Spotify – however, if you value what you hear on this project (or, for that matter, any other album you hear), please purchase it and support the work of Miranda and her colleagues.