Frank Gutch Jr: Brian Cullman Is a Freaking Genius (and other tales of suspense)
He is! And I will tell you why! Read this— the beginning of an email he titled 7 Short Notes on Sandy Denny. Wait! I shouldn’t. You see, Brian is a good friend and lets me in on creative works long before they are ready for public consumption. Some works. Sure, some are just one-liners, but always one-liners of consequence. Others are long and involved thoughts squeezed through fingers or thumbs (unlike myself, he has mastered the craft of the smartphone), dancing around topics but never reaching the core, leaving that task to others.
He has vision— oh, what vision— as can best be read in his short treatises on Giorgio Gomelsky, who died earlier this year (read it here), and Nick Drake, who was as much ghost as man to those of us who loved his music but knew so little beyond it (read it here). I laugh all the way through anything he sends me, but not a comedic laugh. A laugh at the vision, at the juxtaposition of words, at a thought process I only wish I could approach. And, yes, sometimes just at the situation and words, like when Gomelsky screamed, “More rock and roll! More loud!” If I had been drinking coffee when I read that, I would have needed a new keyboard.
So here is the first thing I read when I opened his latest email. “1) I just finished the recent Sandy Denny bio. I was very disappointed by it. In the end she dies. In the bio that I want to read she’s now living in a cottage in Wales and only drinking on Thursdays. The album she made with Angharad Drake is still selling well.” I wanted to jump out of my chair and scream “Angharad Drake!” because he knows how much Angharad Drake’s music means to me and what Sandy Denny and Fotheringay meant to me and I can’t help it is an homage to music that we love and share and an acknowledgment that it is, in a way, bigger than life because it is a collection of such moments which string together to make life everything. It is, in a way, a huge compliment to Ms. Drake and one of my biggest laughs in a long time because I had never once envisioned Denny and Drake together and now I can’t get it out of my head. “The album she made with Angharad Drake is still selling well.” He uses it as reprise too. Of the seven notes, the first and last contain that line. It needed to be refrained. It really did.
In case you don’t know, Cullman just released a new album which makes me laugh too: The Opposite of Time. No one-trick-pony, Cullman. The man spews talent when inspired. When I first made his acquaintance, he spewed little and it was a long time between bursts— too little for me, anyway. But he slowly revealed his works, sending a link here and a link there to works he had had published or sometimes sending me a file of a work-in-progress. He included works by others too, always with permission— it was through Cullman that I found Ollabelle and Glenn Patscha and Byron Isaacs and The Big Bright and Lost Leaders and opened up paths which are still being constructed.
Have you heard Cullman’s All Fires the Fire? The album before The Opposite of Time? It is an album well worth hearing. When I was young and lived in Eugene and then L.A. And San Diego, it was the kind of album around which people who really loved music gathered. Are you hearing this, Seth Dudley? Larry the K? Mark Allen Tinkle (dubbed Smirk Alvin Dinkle just for the hell of it)? We had our common bonds. We worshiped at the same turntables, on the whole. We drank the same notes and ate the same rhythms. I made so many friends over music. Because of albums like Cullman’s. One of the ones that have been overlooked for some odd reason. The more I hear it, the more I wonder why.
By the time I got to Seattle, the whole game changed for some reason. Fewer were willing to find new music, though we bonded over that already made. And now that I am back home, I would have lost touch but for a handful of like-minded souls who still love the adventure of the search and the gems they find. Cullman is one. Of course, he sits amidst many, living in New York City, and has doors open for him at a knock. He is cut from the same cloth, looking for and finding the best music at hand, and sharing it with the world. He, until recently, was sitting behind the controls of a radio program he monikered Songs on Toast on which he opened the gates to the most buried oddities known to man. He has been known to play Steve Young alongside The Ramones and Fatoumata Diawara, Nick Lowe next to The Holmes Brothers and Tommy Emmanuel and The Kings College Choir, Big Star after Miriam Makeba and Philip Glass. Not necessarily those exact artists in that exact order, but that is the fun of listening to his show. Two hours in which you are never sure what you will get. He has taught me much about many things, music most of all.
So to see him write the lines about Denny and Drake (Angharad, not Nick) means something. More than something. A lot more.
I am buried by work and as a result lose albums on a regular basis. By “lose,” I mean forget for periods of time. Every once in awhile, though, a tune will creep into my consciousness with its siren song, obscured as it may be. Songs or albums which are calling me back home. In the old days it would have been Gypsy‘s Antithesis or Damnation‘s Which Is the Justice? Which Is the Thief? or Jim Post‘s Colorado Exile. Albums which demanded another hearing. Since diving back into the music game after a short hiatus, say around 2005 or so, the calls are from the newer but as good titles. Some you may know. Give yourself extra points if you do, for these are the treasures buried by that mountain of releases since the implosion of the music business as it was.
Oh, how I wish I could remember what I wanted to write about Derren Raser, whose Home In This Direction album almost slipped through my fingers. I cannot find my copy, though, which will limit the info. Raser had found a review I had written about Greg Laswell‘s Through Toledo album back in 2006. He sent me a copy of Home, hoping I would listen. I did, but not as deeply as I should have, or maybe the words were just not coming. I filed it away and came across it a number of months later and when I listened to it, was blown away. I have no idea how I missed it, but the album was reminiscent of Phil Keaggy‘s early solo works— melodic and acoustic and just the right touch on harmonies. Beautiful songs. Why is it that that doesn’t count much anymore? Some writers drop a turd on the sidewalk and people fight to get a whiff (just ask Juicy Lucy). It is a strange, strange world in which we live.
I wish I had my own notes about various musicians. Cullman mentioned a show he had seen upon arriving in London— a Fotheringay show in which Elton John sucked all the air out of the room. Elton before the circus act and the neon lights and feather boas. Elton when he relied upon the power of the music to move a crowd. He did, judging from Cullman’s words, which relegated Fotheringay to anticlimax, as good as they were. Like Bob Dylan opening for The Allman Brothers Band at The Fillmore East or Jimi Hendrix opening for The Monkees (wait, that one actually happened). I had heard Wayne Berry make comment about Elton back in his early days— how he had gone tour with, I think, Timber, and had come back to a meeting at the label (Kapp Records), ostensibly to talk of a second record, only to find the room buzzing about this new guy from England who was going to save the label. I don’t remember the first Elton John record being released on Kapp in The States. Another moment in time I missed. By the way, the second album never happened. Well, it did, but not on Kapp.
I don’t think any but the people involved read my pieces on Sage Run. Their first album (and the second) was immaculate. The band name in one of those misdirection ploys so popular in todays world of music. We may be only two, but we are a band thing. Only Sage Run is only one. David Stace-James is the magician behind the music and he pulled some exceptional tricks on the self-titled album. When I reviewed it, I made mention of Simon & Garfunkel and an Australian project known as Pepa and, of course, The Winterpills, for there is a folk/psych sense about it, and I just noticed that I even mentioned Brian Cullman, for which I pat myself on the back because there are moments when the music brushes up against the songs on All Fires the Fire. It is a beauty of an album and I had such great hopes for it but it was not to be. I think Stace-James hit the brick wall or something, daunted by a music world he did not recognize, and promotion was just not there. Not to be cowed, though, he put together another project titled The Beginning and End of War—– another superb album which looked at war through music. To look at the album cover, you would think it was all Civil War but such was not the case. Stace-James would never limit himself to such a narrow view of a massive subject, and he kept on-point. War sucks, with a cinematic edge. There was a point I expected to hear “Pull up the twelve-pounders,” a line from the excellent White Mansions album from many years ago. I sigh. And I am listening as I type. You may not know the name of David Stace-James, but it is forever imprinted in my mind. (Hear his music here)
Most people outside of St. Louis do not know of Jimmy Griffin. A few years ago, he had a band called The Incurables and an album titled The Fine Art of Distilling. One day while navigating my way through the social media, I saw a post from powerpopaholic.com about the album and followed the arrows until I found the album. It lost out to Tamikrest for my choice of Album of the Year. It was a coin flip. Tamikrest was African-infused rock and more. The Incurables was crunching Pop. Both were excellent and received a lot of airplay in the old homestead. Griffin’s pictures are all over the social media. Most are selfies posted by fans. That alone says a lot about the guy.
I’ve been into Michael Fennelly‘s music for years. While I had heard The Millennium, the first real band he was in, it was Crabby Appleton which made me a die-hard fan. What a jump it was from the sweet sounding melodies and harmonies of the one to the rocking aspects of the other. Fennelly has been doing us all a big favor by digging through his vaults and posting songs from those albums and more. Lots of demos and outtakes have made their way onto YouTube, sometimes in demo/master form, meaning that the demo plays first, then the completed track. A few have few real differences, but some, subtle as they are, are real eye-openers. Looking at his career with 20/20 hindsight, I cannot believe that The Millennium were not huge. At least Crabby Appleton had a decent run.
I only recently discovered Chris Bathgate. While he does have a following, it does not seem to be nation-wide. After hearing his latest album, I will be spending a bit of time backtracking. Something in his music strikes a chord. It would disturb me to come back in a couple of years and not see him a household name. Hell of a songwriter.
Amy van Keeken steamrolled me. Jesse Dee (Picture the Ocean) mentioned her in glowing terms and I stopped by for a quick listen and have been entranced since. She is Canada’s Hannah Gillespie, whom I also believe undervalued. With the good weather lately, I have been hearing Summertime Love in my head and digging every note. In case you’ve not heard her, treat yourself. The two EPs, written and released a few years ago, are available on one LP— vinyl. A collector’s item and something to be treasured. Just listen. You’ll understand.
I lost my thread. I don’t know what happened. I was pumping adrenaline after reading Cullman’s piece. I was. But somewhere between here and there….. I guess it happens that way sometimes— more lately than I would like to admit. I am still laughing, though. There is something in the way Cullman sees or hears things. There is something about the world in which he lives. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I want to live in that world, too. The world where Sandy Denny is still alive and living in Wales and the album she made with Angharad Drale is still selling well. God, I wish I could write like that!
If you think you might want to read some more of Cullman’s writings, click here. Good stuff.
Notes….. It has been awhile since I have heard from The Soft Hills but is always worth the wait. From their album scheduled to be released on Tax Day, April 15th:
This could be one of the most gawdawful pieces of crap on writing ever created or it could be one fascinating trip down the writing pike. My questions are how long is it and does it follow the standard documentary form (which is to ask all the wrong people the wrong questions). This little clip intrigues me but it could turn sour with one over-the-top comment. Will I give it a chance? You bet. Rock critics had and have a huge influence on me.
Frank’s column appears every Tuesday
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“Frank Gutch Jr. looks like Cary Grant, writes like Hemingway and smells like Pepe Le Pew. He has been thrown out of more hotels than Keith Moon, is only slightly less pompous than Garth Brooks and at one time got laid at least once a year (one year in a row). He has written for various publications, all of which have threatened to sue if mentioned in any of his columns, and takes pride in the fact that he has never been quoted. Read at your own peril.”