The Mulligan Brothers

"We're so thrilled to be here. You've the most beautiful country in the world!"

So speaks Ross Newell of the Alabama and Louisiana based Mulligan Brothers as they prepare to perform in front of a sold out Black Box during only their second visit to Ireland. Although Newell and fellow band members Gram Rea, Ben Leininger and Greg De Luca aren't actually related, they have bonded through the power of musical brotherhood: for every "brother" in the group, it was about coming together for a second chance, or taking a mulligan (groan!) once previous projects hadn't worked out. Clearly, it is a chance they've grabbed with both hands – their confidence on stage and reception off stage is proof of this.

Support act Bláthnaid Níhír, who hails from Castlewellan, certainly benefits from the Mulligans' following as she swiftly overcomes partial nerves to present a short, simple but sweet acoustic tale of a young lady looking to find her way in life and love. Confidence comes to her with time and encouragement from the warm and packed-to-the-rafters venue, her small selection of songs a fitting choice for the acoustic guitar strings and vulnerable yet firm vocals that accompany them. Even if Níhír's "dream following" tone and themes aren't exactly new, she sings so clearly and emotes so sweetly that one can't help but like her. She's someone to watch.

What really helps is that the Black Box is not set up to be a dance or disco hall, but an arena for amenable appreciation, with chairs and tables dotted everywhere for people to sit down and simply enjoy themselves. The Mulligan Brothers' blend of Americana, folk, rock, country and roots is perfect for the surroundings, with Newell and company mixing the familiar, friendly and even slightly frivolous to great effect.

There's something reassuring, even inspiring, about opening number "Oh Susanna", a combination of pop with steady tempo bluegrass. Think Green Day without the cheese. And the group build on this by going on to highlight the messages in their songs, the vocals of every single band member effectively relaying a story of sorts to the audience. They definitely wouldn't look out of place in O Brother, Where Art Thou? - what is "Man Of Constant Sorrow" if not one of the most contradictory yet catchy tunes of recent years, miserable lyrics attached to a memorable melody?

Like the Coen brothers and their films, the Mulligans look and act like likable oddballs, yet genuinely appear to have a strong grasp of what makes popular culture tick and of the pros and cons of life itself. Of note are the excellent "Let Them Ring" which combines lyrics about the highs and lows of the music industry with an equally impressive fiddle solo from Rea, and the pointed "So Are You" which speaks to everyone in the audience about finding their own voice amongst trends.

Things never get too weighty, though: there are a sprinkling of covers to enjoy, especially in the encore, with the Mulligans continuously maintaining the right balance between the music and the musings. Indeed, it is the musicianship that is remembered most fondly – Leininger's skill with the "suitcase bass", Rea's prowess on the fiddle, De Luca's powerful vocals and Newell's warm, welcoming presence lingering longest.

It's as if Newell's modus operandi is: appreciate our stories and messages, but above all, enjoy the music. Which everyone definitely does. And given the opportunity, one senses that the whole of the Black Box would happily "take a mulligan" with these brothers soon. Not to mention Bláthnaid Níhír.

Simon Fallaha

The Mulligan Brothers played the Black Box as part of the Out Lunch Festival.

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