Buy: Ciao My Shining Star: The Songs of Mark Mulcahy, featuring The National, Thom Yorke, Ben Kweller, Michael Stipe, Dinosaur Jr, more!


Mark Mulcahy isn't a household name, but he should be. In the '80s, the singer-songwriter fronted Miracle Legion, a Connecticut jangle-pop act that managed to transcend early comparisons to R.E.M. and evolve into a pretty solid original rock band. In the '90s, Miracle Legion -- or, rather, Mulcahy and the band's then-rhythm section-- morphed into Polaris, who you might know as the house band on the Nickelodeon cult show The Adventures of Pete & Pete. (Fun fact: RFT writer Mike Appelstein had a hand in programming the music for that show. Really.) Mulcahy has since released several solo CDs and opened for some pretty big names in the northeast.

But like many fine singer-songwriters, Mulcahy has toiled in obscurity -- even though he has many famous fans. Which brings us to Ciao My Shining Star: The Songs of Mark Mulcahy.

Sadly, Mulcahy's wife passed away suddenly last year -- and so this album functions as a benefit for him and his daughters, so he can continue to make music. Out now via iTunes (and in physical form on September 29), Ciao is a fantastic collection of covers that reveals the breadth and depth of his talents. As expected, Miracle Legion's northeast peers are out in full force: Dinosaur Jr.'s "The Backyard" is a fuzzy stoner-dirge, while Frank Black's "Bill Jocko" is a spooky, old-time-blues gutbucket rattle and Buffalo Tom's "Butterflies" -- which is on the very necessary iTunes deluxe edition -- is a jaw-dropping power-pop wool blanket. 

The Thom Yorke tune, "All for the Best," is lovely -- it mixes glitchy electro rhythms with garbage-can beats, as if Yorke was singing in a junkyard full of laptops. (The equally lovely title track, incidentally, comes from criminally underrated act the Unbelievable Truth, the band featuring Yorke's older brother Andy.) "Everything's Coming Undone" features R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe singing over a soaring bed of electronics and whimsical xylophone -- while the National's bursting-at-the-seams "Ashamed of the Story I Told" keeps the haunting atmospherics of its 2007 CD, Boxer, alive. 

More obscure acts fare well, too. The Autumn Defense's "Paradise" and "Even Better" keep the spirit of Miracle Legion's jaunty rock hooks, while Winterpills' ghostly co-ed vocals on "And Then?" are chilling. Boston power-pop-rockers the Gravel Pit unfurl a typically ferocious, desperate "Closer to the Wall," and the 'mericans' "Country Boy" unfolds with appropriate melancholy drone, like a Neil Young song on mute.

Of course, there are plenty of gentle, midtempo acoustic-leaning tunes, and with autumn fast approaching (sob), Ciao is the perfect soundtrack to the impending cold and darkness. Mulcahy's songs aren't afraid to open wistful wounds or explore the cynical side of life, but they're also not afraid of sweet vulnerability and romantic notions, either. A benefit is set for this Sunday in New York City, but getting Ciao now will be a solid substitute.

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