Soul comes in many shapes and sounds and comes at you from a hundred different angles and places. Philadelphia’s got an overabundance of it. Always had (thank you Gamble & Huff), Always will. Must be something in the water.
Mutlu Onaral must have drunk a whole lot of that water growing up. He may be more R & F (rhythm & folk) than R & Blue. You can even add the bounce of the Brazilian and the sway of the Jamaican in his tunes. But the 27 year old singer, instrumentalist and composer, known to everyone as Mutlu, has always sounded as if he’s been drunk on the Philly punch that makes the funk flow.
From the intimate high and passionate lows of his voice, to the friendly wordplay of the lyrics to melodies soaked in percussion, soaring string sounds and the flicker of the Fender Rhodes, it’s as if you’re hearing Stephen Stills having breakfast with Stevie Wonder, lunch with Steely Dan and dinner with Daryl Hall; yet all in a unique groovy setting courtesy of pop’s newest most iconic voice.
By the time Mutlu got into college, he started digging on A Tribe Called Quest and other hip-hop artists. At the same time, he began developing a songwriting style that benefited from those artists. But mostly - from the sway of his melodies to the effervescence of his lyrics - he began to craft songs based on his own sense of joy.
Positivism is the hallmark of his lyrical aplomb. Even when Mutlu’s portraying the saddest of sorrows, he’s always ripe with hope.
That’s my thread – something that makes people feel good. Consciously or subconsciously there’s been a negative vibe running throughout the world lately. I wanted to go against that grain. I’m not always happy-go-lucky. But I wanted to channel my influences while taking people away from dwelling on their misery.”
To prove that he’s always been on the cheery side, Mutlu makes note of the oldest song on the record: “See What It Brings.” It was written when he was studying in college. “I just remember feeling down and I wanted to get out of it. So I wrote about the optimism of the future to help lift me from my doldrums.”
If Mutlu had only been around when we were in college.
No sooner than he’d written that song Multu commenced to take part in Philly’s open mic singer-songwriter scene. With Philly being the melting pot it is, fitting in and moving quickly forward was an effortless exercise. Especially since he befriended then, some of the same people who are on LIVIN’ IT today, including co-songwriters Ben Arnold, Scot Sax, McGowan, Tony Reyes and Ojike and vocalists G. Love and Amos Lee. In fact, it was Lee who produced Mutlu’s 2006 eponymous EP.
Mutlu’s says it’s that thread – the Philly-centric, the spirit of collaboration – that makes LIVIN’ IT whole. “It’s not a concept record. But that sense of unity is what’s behind the album. With all its collaborators, the process reads like a hip-hop CD. “Damn I can’t believe you caught that” says Mutlu. “That’s exactly it. I might be coming primarily from R&B, but I wanted to take hip hop’s element of ‘collabo’ and bring it to my acoustic soul thing.”
To make LIVIN’ IT raw and silken, it was important to keep it tight.
Mutlu got multi-instrumentalist/producer T Bone-Wolk – famous for doing those things with Elvis Costello and Hall & Oates – to do as much with him.
In fact, save for Steve Holley playing drums, Sharon Little and Jazzfatnastees’ Mercedes Martinez singing backgrounds and a few friends collaborating on vocals; all the music played on LIVIN’ IT is T-Bone and Mutlu. That reflects the intimacy of tracks like the tender plea of “Think It Over” and the bounce of “Upside.”
Once you got things nice and intimate, you can bring in your pals.
Mutlu pulled in old friends Amos Lee, who co-wrote and sang on “Make It There,” and G. Love, who recorded his vocals and harmonica on “Shaky Ground” in-between dropping his kid at school and leaving for his tour, as well as new pal Raheem De Vaughn who duets with Mutlu on the caramel-coated “In Your Heart,” LIVIN’ IT’s closer.
Then there’s Daryl Hall who sang with Mutlu on the Philly-cream-cheese smooth, “See What It Brings”. “Hall & Oates were a huge influence; everything they did throughout the 70s in particular,” says Mutlu of the cosmic connection between them. “In the same way we had that immediate musical and personal connection what with both of us growing up in Philly, he seemed to have an immediate connection with my song.” It shows.
Multu doesn’t need collaborators to bring out the misty moods and slippery sunshine of his own voice. While “Hello Morning” radiates that first feeling of having to make sense of a bad situation through its aching-to-quaking lullaby vocals, “Think It Over” is his blessed out appreciation of all those things you have rather than all those things you want.
But it’s the title track (co-written with producer/songwriter Ojike) that radiates all that it is Mutlu – something that sends forth nothing but the positive in its ebullient vocals and brightly jazzy melody. “It’s my summer song – always stay up, never get down,” says Mutlu.
“Happiness will return again.”
With Mutlu’s LIVIN’ IT around, happiness will never leave you.