Cate Le Bon – Mug Museum

Much of the most notable ’60s folk music had a gentle heaviness to it – lyrically, singers reflected on various aspects of living to profound degrees, but typically employed metaphors that sounded far more simplistic than their myriad applications. In some cases, it was a memorable melody that made those songs magical; those verbal mazes are a big reason they remain especially relevant. Welsh singer-songwriter Cate Le Bon is a master of combining both elements – and her latest LP, Mug Museum, feels instantly timeless.

The album is lyrically plain yet poignant, and moves around like honey with melodies that, whether slow, swaying or fast and swirling, consistently go over with a sweet, rich smoothness. This third full-length outing, though sonically cohesive in the mix of its predecessors, is reportedly inspired by Le Bon’s contemplating of maternal roles, which began after the death of her grandmother. While thematically she may have been quite focused, what materialized is collection of messages with multiple purposes. The titular line of “Are You With Me Now?” will grasp the conscious of a number of people with varied significance – what’s evoked for one will be different than another, but it’s likely the feeling will be deep-rooted and personally substantial. Le Bon’s thick, sultry croon, not unlike that of Joan Baez, elevates that and every other verse on Mug Museum to an emotional intensity that’s absolutely stirring.

There are notes of ’50s R&B, classic country and even a few psychedelic zings throughout the LP. On “Duke,” Le Bon shapes a sphere of a song that swings around to hit roaring, momentous vocal highs, then repetitive, deep and nearly monotone comedowns: “The weather licked your face dry,” she speak-sings. Subtly bluesy guitar and pipe organ underscores much of the album, but the pairing is sometimes intensified to trippy extremes, like on the sinister sounding “Sisters.” A strummy, sort of apathetic version of the same quality is present on “No God,” in which Le Bon recounts seeing “a face again” that she knows is no holy apparition.

The melodies undulate too quickly and there’s too much purposeful dissonance scattered here and there for her work to fall under pure pop. But it’s really only a dash of discord and Le Bon is calculated with her eccentricities. Mug Museum is off-kilter, but only just so. There’s both a sense of letting go and restraint, of intentions simultaneously self-specific and universally inviting. The result of that push-and-pull speaks to everyone.

Cate Le Bon
Mug Museum
[Wichita Recordings]