Miraculous Mule make a miraculous album of timeless gospel, folk and roots music
‘Old Bones, New Fire’ is the long awaited follow up to Miraculous Mule’s 2016 album ‘Two Tonne Testimony’. The band as described by leader and founder Michael J Sheehy is “…a group of Anglo-Irish honkies who dig African-American gospel, prison work songs and Hillbilly music” and all those influences are to be heard on ‘Old Bones, New Fire’. In a review of their previous album, it was described as “The sound of a post-modern chain gang” and with a number of call and response songs on the new album, they’ve taken that to another level.
There are ten superb tracks on the album, nine of them traditional songs arranged by the band and one Sheehy original ‘You Get What You Deserve’ cunningly disguised to fit right in with the other nine. The album opens with Sheehy sounding like an old-time gospel singer leading the band in a call and response spiritual ‘I Know I’ve Been Changed’. That’s followed by ‘Nothing, Nothing’ with its Beatles-like guitar intro and Patrick McCarthy’s banjo driving it along with oohs and hash from Alex Petty. Next is ‘City Of Refuge’ another song with a gospel feel with its handclaps and ethereal backing vocals from Petty. Track four is ‘You Get What You Deserve’ and that’s followed by ‘Fire In My Bones’ which has echoes of gospel era Elvis with lots of what sounds like analogue reverb (or a very good emulation of) and a Jordanaire’s like gospel choir giving the song a vintage revival meeting, call and response feel. That’s followed by ‘Oh, Death’ the only song where Petty takes the lead vocal. It’s an acapella gospel song with Petty backed by a male choir sounding like a chain-gang working on the railroad. It’s followed by a version of the well-known gospel song ‘John The Revelator’ which is followed by the traditional folk song ‘Butcher Boy’ with its gentle vocals and banjo. The other musician on the album is Ian Burns on very understated drums and percussion. The penultimate song is ‘You Gotta Take Sick And Die’ another folky gospel song and the album ends with another call and response song ‘Sinnerman’ which Nina Simone made famous in the sixties.
What’s slightly unusual about ‘Old Bones, New Fire’ is that three of the tracks ‘I Know I’ve Been Changed’, ‘We Get What We Deserved’ and ‘Butcher Boy’ were recorded back in 2011 at Fortress Studios in London. ‘O Death’was also recorded in 2011 but at Sheehy’s home. but the other six tracks were recorded also in London but at Premises Studio in 2020. And to complicate things even more, some additional recording was done at the band’s homes during lockdown – but you can’t see the joins!
‘Old Bones, New Fire’ has an old-timey feel to it with its gospel and folk roots and at times the band sounds like one of the sixties folk groups such as The Kingston Trio or The Weavers with a sprinkling of The Staples Singers and The Dixie Hummingbirds for good measure – and what superb mix it is.
In the album’s liner notes, the band dedicates the album to the aforementioned Nina Simone, Elvis Presley and The Staples Singers along with Son House, Boyd and Ruth Mae Rivers, Ralph Stanley, Doc Watson, Vera Hall, Blind Willie Johnson and Sister Rosetta Tharpe etc. Miraculous Mule have chosen some splendid role models to influence their music and on ‘Old Bones, New Fire’ they’ve done them all proud.
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