Marissa Mulder is a natural; a rarity among cabaret singers. You never hear her struggling to tell a story or to make a point or to show off the range and beauty of her sparkling perfectly pitched soprano. Whatever she sings just seems to spill out of her without forethought or calculation.
Her choices of songs on her exquisite album, “Two Tickets Left” are as instinctively right as her unaffected delivery, bolstered by the sensitive contributions of her musical compatriot Nate Buccieri on piano and backup vocals. Always, the emotional truth of whatever she sings is right there in front of you. Even when she’s telling someone else’s story, she makes it hers.
Her voice sparkles like a sunlit fountain in Joni Mitchell’s “Chelsea Morning,” the album’s opening cut. You can see “the sun through yellow curtains, the rainbow on the wall,” and can savor her breakfast of milk and toast and honey, and feel the warmth of the sun pouring in “like butterscotch” and “sticking” to her senses. She makes romantic happiness, when it comes, seem easy.
Her version of the Elton John-Bernie Taupin ballad, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” cuts through any grandiosity to reveal a free-spirited narrator determinedly rejecting show business glamor to embrace her country roots. As her voice glides with fearless ease over the song’s challenging, semi-operatic intervals she never loses the thread or the note.
The persona who inhabits many of the songs on “Two Tickets Left” shrugs off contradictions and embraces simplicity like the frisky narrator of the Alanis Morrissettehit, “Hand in My Pocket,” who declares, “I’m broke but I’m happy,” “I’m high but I’m grounded, “I’m green but I’m wise.” Or in the language of Walt Whitman, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, Then, I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.” In other words, So what? I’m just happy to be alive.
She infuses “It’s Amazing the Things That Float,” Pete Mills’s song about a flood, with a powerful sense of wonder. More than a disaster, the flood is an adventure.
So is Matt Alber’s “End of the World,” in which passionate lovers riding a rollercoaster debate whether to break up or to continue. “I don’t wanna fall, I don’t wanna fly/ I don’t wanna be dangled over the edge of a dying romance, but I don’t wanna stop.”
A deeper sense of wonder infuses “Martha” and “Take It With Me,” two great songs by Tom Waits that evoke the preciousness of memory and of ordinary things that in retrospect loom as achingly transcendent illuminations. A humble space like “Beulah’s porch” on which two lovers once fell asleep decades earlier assumes a monumental personal significance.
At the core of Mulder’s sensibility is a belief in an essential innocence. It shines out of her in every note and syllable.
There’s something about the singing of Marissa Mulder that goes straight to the jugular; it never takes more than three or four notes or words to transform me into a blubbering mess of jello. Her new album, Two Tickets Left, is a collection of songs that, although considerably newer than most of the fare you’ll hear at the cabaret rooms around town (and older than Miss Mulder herself), they seem like they’ve been waiting much too long for someone to come along and really bring them to life. For the first time, for me, at least, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” no longer seems like a random morass of psychedelic images but an actual concrete narrative, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. I can even imagine Sir Elton, the Rocketman himself, and Bernie Taupin, listening together to Miss Mulder’s profounding moving interpretation and musing to each other, “oh, so that’s what it really means.”
It’s easy to see why Marissa Mulder is so sought out and well liked. The lady has a heart that she can’t hide, and it shines through with every note on this recording, like a fleeting butterfly looking to land. With a timely (blessedly non-political) theme and calm assuredness, her latest album, Two Tickets Left: Songs of Hope, she moves up the ladder another notch as her star continues to shine brighter in the cabaret world.
When you look at songs like Tom Waits’ “Martha” or Alanis Morissette’s “Hand in My Pocket,” you don’t necessarily think Marissa Mulder’s clear, youthful soprano voice will fit the bill. And yet, you would be grossly mistaken. “Hand in My Pocket,” for example, is less a mid-‘90s angst-rock song, and more a study in the process of pulling one’s life together and reclaiming it. “Martha” is an extraordinary song by one of our most gifted writers, and in Mulder’s hands it is a real highlight of the album—full of regret and uncertainty and yearning. “It’s Amazing the Things That Float” by Peter Mills deceives you. At first, it seems one of the better songs to come out of the “new musical theatre” catalog of the last 20 years, beginning clever and fairly light, almost a novelty song....