Peter Mulvey has been a songwriter, road-dog, raconteur and almost-poet since before he can remember. He started playing at Milwaukee’s Cafe Carpe when he was a kid, and 30 years later returned to record Peter Mulvey with SistaStrings: Live at the Cafe Carpe, set to be released on October 9 on Righteous Babe Records. Featuring 18 songs recorded over two nights in January 2020, Mulvey collaborated with SistaStrings, comprised of sisters Monique and Chauntee Ross on cello and violin, respectively, and drummer Nathan Kilen, on the project.
At its core, this album is about a band that found each other, and also a home. As Mulvey says, "It’s about a couple of magic nights SistaStrings and I spent, crammed into the tiny back room of a listening room called the Cafe Carpe, jammed full of people, joyfully playing the songs we’d learned over our few years of becoming an ensemble, all happily unaware that the world was already changing, that because of the pandemic already underway the entire world of listening rooms and intimate live audiences was about to disappear for who-knows how long."
The songs on the record are a mix of a few of Mulvey’s older songs, a few of his newer co-writes, some unreleased tunes, and Woody Guthrie, Iron and Wine, Daniel Johnston, and Gary Louris and Mark Olson covers.
Peter and fellow Milwaukeeans SistaStrings met a few years ago and clicked instantly, later adding drummer Nathan Kilen. The sound immediately made sense: Chauntee and Monique play with tremendous intuition, technical ability, and (impossible to teach) spaciousness. Kilen’s tiny drum kit (which he developed to travel with Mulvey on his bicycle tours) rounds the quartet out perfectly.
Raised working-class Catholic on the Northwest side of Milwaukee, Mulvey studied abroad for a semester in Ireland and immediately began cutting classes to busk on Grafton Street in Dublin and hitchhike through the country. Back stateside, he spent a couple of years gigging in the Midwest before moving to Boston, where he returned to busking on the subway and playing coffeehouses.
Eighteen records, one illustrated book, thousands of live performances, a TEDx talk, a decades-long association with the National Youth Science Camp, opening for luminaries such as Ani DiFranco, Emmylou Harris, and Chuck Prophet, appearances on NPR, an annual autumn tour by bicycle, emceeing festivals, hosting his own boutique festival (the Lamplighter Sessions, in Boston and Wisconsin), Mulvey never stops. He has built his life’s work on collaboration and on an instinct for the eclectic and the vital. He folds everything he encounters into his work: poetry, social justice, scientific literacy, and a deeply abiding humanism are all on plain display in his art.
SistaStrings combines a classical background with R&B and a touch of gospel influence that culminates in a vibey, lush sound. Between them, they have soloed with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and played some of the most storied venues in the country, including Carnegie Hall. They have played with Malik Yusef and opened for Black Violin, Bone Thugs ‘N Harmony, Lupe Fiasco, BJ The Chicago Kid, and The Roots. Outside of playing music venues, SistaStrings conducts school assemblies to encourage young people to pursue the arts.
Peter Mulvey with SistaStrings: Live at the Cafe Carpe Tracklisting:
1. Don't You Ever Change
2. You Are the Only One
3. Are You Listening
4. Ingrid Bergman
5. Kids in the Square
7. I Had This Friend and He Was Dying
8. Who's Gonna Love You Now
9. What Else Was It
10. Fool's Errand
11. The Details
13. Red Rose Motel
14. The Trapeze Singer
15. It Can Get You By
16. Everything Is Ending
18. Devil Town