Mutlu is getting into a little good trouble.
The Philadelphia singer-songwriter — who has written, recorded and opened for the likes of Philly icons Daryl Hall and John Oates as well as Amos Lee — can lay claim with his silk-like vocals to being part of the next generation of The Sound of Philadelphia (TSOP).
But his latest album is a little different. Titled “Good Trouble,” it’s got an edge. And that’s exactly how he wanted it. The title of the album was inspired by a term used by Georgia Congressman and civil right icon John Lewis, who uses it in the context of facing confrontation and pushback for his views.
Sure, its got the usual smooth groove and natural storytelling that has come to define Mutlu’s music. But “Good Trouble” takes it to a different level, tackling thought-provoking topics like societal change, inequality, depression and hardship.
“My previous records were a more subtle stream of consciousness, where I maybe had a bit of commentary. But it was more veiled and poetic,” said Mutlu in a recent interview. “This is the first time that I’ve purposely been overtly political on a few songs. It’s one thing to go rant online, but I’m still a musician at the end of the day. How can I channel that into the next record?”
The result is that “Good Trouble” ends up being a cross-section of the personal and political, and features a trilogy of songs that tackle the difficulties that many people face in their everyday life.
They include the first three tracks of the album: “Lifeline,” which represents the more hopeful side of things; “Not Escapable,” that describes the exhaustion, frustration, anger and hopelessness that can overwhelm some people; and “95 to 5,” which addresses the wealth gap that seems to be getting worse.
Also different this time is the way Mutlu approached the making of “Good Trouble.” Once again teaming up with co-producer and co-writer on some of the songs Darius Amendolia, the two decided to to take some time with the preproduction aspects and development of the album’s arc.
“Before we even started recording, I felt like I knew we were doing what we wanted to do because we had such a road map of the songs,” said Mutlu. “With some of my previous EPs, we sort of hadn’t done as much pre-production. This time, it was just a matter of going into the studio and executing it. I don’t think I’ve ever literally thought of the arc of an album song by song from start to finish. I don’t think I was ever as deliberate in mapping out the arc beforehand. And once I stepped back and listened to what we had, I said yeah, this is the kind of thing I wanted to express.”
The album isn’t without it’s Philly soul vibe. The song “Nothing in This Whole Wide World,” is a collaboration with John Oates and channels what was being done by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff at Philadelphia International Records in the infancy of TSOP in the 1970s, when artists like The O’Jays, The Stylistics, The Three Degree and Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes were establishing that Philly sound.
Oates co-produced track with Hall & Oates guitarist Shane Theriot and it includes H&O band members Brian Dunne on drums and Klyde Jones on bass.
“Working with Daryl and John over the years has been a dream come true,” said Mutlu. “Getting to be on Daryl’s show (“Live From Daryl’s House”) and getting to sing with John at his shows and on tour with Hall & Oates, there were a number of times when John and I would talk about writing something together.”
Even though “Nothing in This Whole Wide World” was recorded and released a couple of years ago, it fit into the arc of the “Good Trouble” album.
“That song wasn’t written with the other songs (for the “Good Trouble” album), but it was also deliberate,” said Mutlu. “We were channeling this Spinners thing, that hybrid of grit and smoothness. We sat down and in a couple of hours, that song just came together. It was so much fun sitting with John and a couple of guitars. It was effortless.”
Admittedly, Mutlu takes seriously his role as the next generation of TSOP.
“I do feel that’s a responsibility, to push that sound, that vibe, that emotion — and everything that goes into that,” he said. “I do worry sometimes, do the younger people really know this music? Do they know about The Stylistics, The Three Degrees, The O’Jays, the list goes on and on. Do they really know that catalog? I think it’s important to keep the visibility of that sound and that music out there. It’s a huge part of American pop music history.”
Mutlu is currently on tour in support of “Good Trouble.” He already made stops in Knoxville, TN; Durham, NC; Decatur, GA; and New York City. The tour continues stops at the Club Passim in Cambridge, MA, on Aug. 29; The Soundry in Columbia, MD, Aug. 30; Daryl’s House in Pawlings, NY, Sept. 8; World Cafe Live in Philadelphia Sept. 13; and Paradiso in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Sept. 29. And on Sept. 26, he’ll open for Hall & Oates at the Verizon Arena in Little Rock, AR. For more information go to www.mutlusounds.com.
“The reaction has been great,” said Mutlu. “That’s the most rewarding part, to put the music out and then go and play and get the feedback from the people and see that they’re connecting with the music.”