Joyce's ‘Ulysses' inspires acoustic band The Wandering Rocks


WILLIAMSTOWN -- Sarah McNair starts singing: "Hungry/give us some sugar now/my life has been so sound." Then Jackie Sedlock joins in, and the two women's voices initially diverge from one another and then merge again. Like two ice skaters performing figure eights side-by-side, their voices perfectly complement one another. Sarah's husband, Jason, plays the bass, while Karl Mullen strums his guitar in the background.

The song is called "Hungry," and the group performing is The Wandering Rocks, a Williamstown-based folk band, which gets its name from Mullen's favorite chapter of James Joyce's Irish masterpiece, "Ulysses."

They are rehearsing in a restored 19th-century barn on Mullen's property ahead of their performance on Friday at Mezze Bar + Bistro at 9 p.m. The group is not yet complete: They're waiting for fiddle player Cassandra Cleghorn to arrive.

Listening in the barn is Caitlin Harrison, the restaurant's front-of-house manager, who coordinated the series of four concerts that the band started in January and that will conclude in April.

"What continues to blow my mind is the tonality of your voices," Harrison says. "The sound is so pure that it feels like I pressed play on a beautifully recorded album."

The compliment pleases the four band members, and they begin to joke around with each other. To listen to their rapport feels like eavesdropping on a tightly-knit family's dinnertime conversation.

Soon Cleghorn's car pulls up, and the band is complete. She tunes her fiddle, while the others warm up for the next song. Like most of their songs, it is an original piece, "Lovesomebody Yes I do." Mullen and Sarah write most of the songs, but Mullen said each piece comes together through a collaboration between all five musicians.

"We are developing for everybody, Sarah and I will usually come up with the initial songs and chords, but they morph into something else -- it's a joint effort," Mullen says.

The Wandering Rocks developed two years ago, when Mullen moved to Williamstown with his partner, Merritt Colaizzi, and their twin daughters.

Mullen brought his guitar to a friend's party that Sedlock also attended. Mullen asked Sedlock if she would like to join him in a song. Unlike Mullen, an artist and painter who had performed in various bands, including a punk rock group in his 20s, Sedlock had never been part of a band before. She was, however, a passionate music aficionado.

"The only band I've been part of is the one in my mind. The band in my car," Sedlock joked. "But look now, did I luck out? I know how to dream."

Mullen and Sedlock began singing with Sarah just for fun. Like Sedlock, Sarah was fairly new to music, but her husband, Jason, who plays with the band The Mommyheads, has been a lifelong musician.

After a year playing with Sedlock and the McNairs, and deepening his friendships with both of them, Mullen met Cleghorn, an English professor at Williams College, and they instantly clicked.

Once they had the opportunity to perform in front of audiences and practice more, the five began to develop a devoted local audience.

They recorded a live album out of the barn, and they even took a group road trip to perform in Pittsburgh, where Mullen previously lived. Locally, they had the opportunity to perform for an even larger audience at Mass MoCA's building 5.

Mullen and Colaizzi spoke to Mezze co-founder Bo Peabody about performing in the restaurant. They met with Nancy Thomas, the restaurant's proprietor and other co-founder, as well as Harrison.

"We love to give them the space to do what they are already doing naturally together, which is to bring a great group of people together to listen to great music," Harrison said.

Part of The Wandering Rock's appeal is that the music is natural and not "processed" like so many mainstream pop acts, Mullen said.

"People sing to you live in your room, and you use the bare minimum -- it's very intimate," Mullen said.

Back at the rehearsal, with Cleghorn's fiddle, the group's sound seems fuller.

"Gonna love somebody / yes I do / gonna love ..." sings Mullen, Sedlock, and Sarah in the final refrain of the song, as Cleghorn and Jason's instruments add two additional voices of their own.

"You got to see the group complete," Mullen said after the song. "You can see every part come together."

If you go ...

What: The Wandering Rocks

Where: Mezze Bistro + Bar, 777 Cold Springs Road, Williamstown

When: Friday at 9 p.m. and April 19 at 9 p.m.

Admission: No cover charge for the show, but donations are accepted.

Information: Reservations at (413) 458-0123.
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