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Mustard's Retreat

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MUSTARD'S RETREAT

Ann Arbor-based folkies Michael Hough and David Tamulevich, better known as Mustard's Retreat, have a talent for transforming quotidian details--household chores left undone, snow accumulating beneath a darkening sky, a roadside phone booth--into poetry; the lucidity and resonance of their images recall William Carlos Williams's dictum "No ideas but in things." Some of the duo's early albums rely heavily on what Tamulevich has called "sad boy songs...about the angst of youth and heartache," but their most recent CD, 1997's The Wind and the Crickets...and the South Texas Moon, and the Tune From an Old Country Waltz (Palmetto), sounds relatively optimistic and centered, with the willowy interplay of their guitars gently buoying the aching sweetness of their vocal harmonies. In "Well Here We Are" a husband and wife find a reaffirmation of their love simply by holding hands in the dark; in "Soft Falls the Snow" a similar bond between lovers is evoked by the dance of light and shadows cast by a bonfire ("The one needs the other / Together they're true"). Only a few songs descend into triviality: "Talking Midlife" attempts to squeeze fresh juice out of the dried-up "talkin' blues" form and the equally cliched subject of midlife crisis, and "Faded Blue and Gold," a sentimental portrayal of a high school reunion, is marred by half-baked aphorisms ("We're all right now, we were all right then / We'll be all right again"). At their best, though, Mustard's Retreat create rich, nuanced inner landscapes--the songs are certainly low-key, but they're deeply felt. In "Gone Again," a man struggles to help an alcoholic friend; over a chiming, hymnlike guitar accompaniment Tamulevich sings, "Your friends can't help you, everybody's tried," his voice threatening to crack with sorrow even as it hardens in anger. Sunday, March 11, 7 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln; 773-728-6000.

DAVID WHITEIS

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