Folk band takes a fresh spin on classic sounds

“From deep in the hills of the Finger Lakes” comes Mulberry Soul, a Middlesex-based band that “blends folk, bluegrass and old time music with soulful original songs.” The band is set to release their debut album, Mulberry Soul, on May 20. Started in 2012 at the Rochester Folk Art Guild, the band has had major success playing all around upstate New York, including the popular Rochester bar, Bug Jar, and bar-pub-concert venue combination, Flour City Station. Members include Gabriel Schliffer, Scott Calpin, Cordelia Hall, Aaron Oldweiler, Carla-Marie Padvoiskis and Chris Machanoff ‘06.

In true folk and bluegrass style, Mulberry Soul’s sound uses an eclectic array of instruments including the banjo, the mandolin, the upright bass, the fiddle and an acoustic guitar. It is the use of these instruments—combined with their authentic sound—that distinguishes Mulberry Soul from other popular bands.

Their self-titled debut album is a compilation of 10 songs inspired by traditional folk, bluegrass and country music. Overall, the album is a great addition to anyone’s summer playlist. Many of the songs, such as “Pappy Johnson,” have a storytelling quality that seems to be lacking in today’s pop hits.

In addition to the storytelling within the songs, there are also many long instrumental breaks. In fact, “Harlem Blues” has no lyrics at all. One would think that a lack of lyrics would make a song hard to listen to, but that is not the case here. “Harlem Blues” delivers such a strong fiddle melody that the listener is never bored. Other songs, such as “Shed,” provide a happy medium of both lyrics and instrumental breaks.

The album mixes it up a bit with vocals, as well. In some songs Hall—the band’s only female member—can be heard complimenting the main vocals with her own warm and earthy voice. The closing track, “What We’re Made Of,” features Hall’s voice at the front and center, providing a nice change of pace and a perfect end to the album.

Whether they are channeling old school country music or leaning more toward a folksy sound, every song on Mulberry Soul takes classic roots and turns them into fresh new melodies and rhythms. We may have heard the banjo and the mandolin before, but we’ve never heard them quite like this.

“Wilding Grove” and “Shed” are great examples of this innovation, “Wilding Grove” with its edgy chords and “Shed” with its delicate and airy introduction. This seamless merging of the old and the new evokes a wistful longing for simpler times, but also a fresh feeling that suggests that those times are still here.

Mulberry Soul isn’t slowing down anytime soon, either. Accompanying the release of their album, they will be embarking on a summer tour that will take them to big festivals throughout the state, including the upcoming Rochester Lilac Festival and the Grassroots Big Splash.

It seems that Mulberry Soul achieved a great balance: their sound is divergent from the rest, and yet they receive recognition at some of New York’s greatest musical events. From the sound of this album, it is well deserved.