released April 18, 2016
Mark J. Mulcahy - Sings
Raymond Neal - Guitar
Produced by Jim Rondinelli
Recorded at Paisley Park Studios
Mixed at Forte Apache
Mixing and additional recording by Paul Q. Kolderie
Mastered by Howie Weinberg
All Songs by Mark & Ray
All Songs (c) Myxplyxtix Music
Tiny Mix Tapes Review (1989):
There's an episode of the classic Nickelodeon TV show The Adventures of Pete and Pete, in which the younger brother Pete becomes strangely fascinated with a song he hears being played in a garage by a mysterious band. Following this encounter, the band inexplicably disappears off the face of the earth, leaving Pete to recall the song from memory -- by no means an easy task for the young, red-haired iconoclast. The real tragedy is that if Pete had even a slight acquaintance with 1980s indie pop, he might have recognized Mark Mulcahy, lead singer of the show's house band, Polaris, and former frontman of Miracle Legion. After making the connection, Pete could've drawn from the plethora of sweet, jangly pop tunes from Miracle Legion's discography. Perhaps with a bit of luck, he would've discovered their masterpiece, Me and Mr. Ray. But sadly, Pete knew nothing of the Miracle Legion, and the best he could do was muster up a cover rendition of the song with a little help from the quirky locals of Wellsville.
Starting out in 1984, Miracle Legion released a few EPs with little fanfare before signing to Rough Trade in 1987. During this three-year period, they garnered minor college radio success, but were always dogged by lazy, cursory comparisons to R.E.M
. Ostensibly, these comparisons might seem valid, but contrasting Stipe and Mulcahy's approach to songcraft paints a wildly divergent picture. It wasn't until Me and Mr. Ray, their third proper full-length, that Miracle Legion started to chart new directions and shake erroneous associations. From opening track "The Ladies From Town," it's obvious that Mr. Ray is a more idiosyncratic and experimental endeavor, though it doesn't end up straying too far from the pop hooks the band were so good at.
In lieu of jangly, electric guitars, the majority of the album favors pristine acoustic arrangements and playfully abstract lyrics, often bolstered with equally youthful and capricious instrumentation. Even more, the rhythm section seems much further subdued ("You're The One Lee"), even disappearing altogether at points ("Old & New"). Through conscious effort, Mulcahy's songwriting is in the forefront, resulting in newfound sense of immediacy. You can't help but give Me and Mr. Ray your full attention as it shifts from fast-paced folk songs like "The Ladies From Town" to dark, slow-burning ballads like "Pull The Wagon," which acts as the album's centerpiece and is arguably the most complex and bleak song Miracle Legion ever penned.
Lyrically, the album is somewhat ambiguous, never making it clear whether Mulcahy is writing about fictional characters or from personal experience. His songs shift perspective in terms of location and time, further confusing anyone attempting to make direct interpretations. What is clear, however, is a common thread of loss and rumination over the nature of human relationships, what comes before and after, and the burden of their having existed in the first place. This is driven home in the beautiful and softened closer, "Gigantic Transatlantic Trunk Call," which stands as an emotive highpoint in Mulcahy's career.
The Miracle Legion seems to be another band lost to time, even to their much more exposed side-project, Polaris. Such oversight is tragic, in the same way it was tragic when little Pete couldn't recall the song that moved him so deeply. Fortunately for those willing to look, Me and Mr. Ray remains a unique, palatable, and affecting experience .