Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Personal Side of Music..... Brian Cullman & Nick Holmes

... Or Why Some People Avoid Me Like The Plague.....

I sit here amped up on caffeine listening to a 2007 release by Brian Cullman titled All Fires the Fire and feeling the steam build pressure as it always does when I hear music that falls by the wayside while Gagas and Biebers sweep the masses away (though to be fair, the sales numbers are but a small portion of what they were at their peak and more comparable to figures when I started in the music business some forty-plus years ago, something the media rarely addresses).  I should know better than to overdrink coffee (I have curtailed my consumption recently, but now and then feel the need to over-imbibe for one reason or another) and the results can be ugly (I have been compared to a violent drunk on occasion, though I have never knowingly struck anyone).  Consider yourself lucky that I am somewhat apolitical or this could be tornado-speak about all that is wrong with the world, and as far as I can see there is plenty. 

No, I am not political, but I am musical.  At one time, I was a drummer and played in an honest to God rock band back in the mid-sixties and thought that I might even be a musician (or a music teacher) because since birth, music has ruled my life (One of my earliest memories of my mother is of her picking me up and dancing me across the room singing along with Jo Stafford's Shrimp Boats, the song a reflection of the joy of that moment)  I played in band at school, tried to compose (a monumental task considering that I had no conception of music theory and struggled with the very basics of composition itself).  When college presented itself, I opted for Music until the bureaucracy at the University of Oregon refused to attach me to the School of Music, stating that if I was going to teach and not perform, the School of Education was for me.  In the midst of chaos (registering at a university in those days was manual and on a strict time schedule), I trekked across campus to be reassigned a faculty advisor from the dreaded School of Education (you had to have one before you could be assigned classes) and stood in line for what seemed like days (it might have been half an hour) and was pissed enough about the delay that by the time I got to the desk and was asked about my major, I closed my eyes and put my finger on a sheet of paper which listed the possibilities and opened them to find I was from that moment on a Radio & Television Broadcasting major.  Damn bureaucrats couldn't tell me what to do.  They handed me a note to my new advisor, stamped my forms and I headed back to the dorm to turn on the radio--- KASH my station of choice because of the three rock stations in Eugene, KASH rocked the hardest and the loudest and played songs no other station did.

Like I said, music has ruled my life.  Let me rephrase that.  Music is my life.  It is the one constant, outside of family and a handful of close friends.  And no, I'm not stupid.  I know that makes me seem eccentric and I sometimes notice when acquaintances cross the street when they see me coming, but acquaintances are not my friends and my friends seem to accept me the way I am.  I don't want to change, see, but more importantly, I can't change.  If music were a crime, I'd be all over television--- reality and otherwise. 

So anyway, I received an email about a month ago from this Brian Cullman guy who had read one of my columns about Nick Holmes, a musician we both hold in high esteem.  Not too many people write about Nick, he said, and he was happy to see that he was not alone in his appreciation.  A few emails later, I found that Cullman was and is a musician himself (and, no, he had not contacted me for publicity of any kind--- I had to beg for his music and would have bought it if I was rich enough, but there is just too damn much great music out there and my pockets are barely deep enough to keep me in domain name and coffee).  He sent me some links (Internet links, not sausage) and I set to finding out about Mr. Cullman.

I found that besides being a man of excellent taste in music (anyone who loves Nick Holmes' Soulful Crooner as much as myself is indeed a person of discerning taste), he has released a handful of musical projects, all worthy of attention, which somehow faded as time passed (I'm guessing here because while I had not heretofore heard of Cullman, it is possible that he has a large following somewhere outside my limited realm).  More than likely, though, he simply slid under the radar as did Holmes.

Hence, the steam.  How is it that All Fires the Fire slips through the cracks?  How is it that Soulful Crooner slips through the cracks?  Both are exceptional albums.  Both kick ass on 99% of the albums out there.  Both should have found a wider audience than they did.  What, I keep asking myself, is wrong?

I wish I had an answer.  In a large way, it saddens me to see music like this ignored.  I mean, I'm not saying that everyone should be listening to it.  I am saying that someone should be.  I am saying that there are large numbers of people looking for music like this but just have yet to find it.  I wish I knew who they are.  I'd email them the info.  Call, if necessary.

The music?  You have to hear it to understand it.  Nick Holmes put Soulful Crooner together with jazz great Michael Mainieri shortly after they worked together on the exceptional (and historical) White Elephant project.  Holmes does on Crooner what Nick Drake did on Pink Moon, except on the jazz/rock side.  I wish I could tell you what Cullman does on All Fires, but I can find no comparisons even though there must be some.  It is soft, textural, cinematic and even majestic (No God But God is vocal and orchestral majesty at its best).  There are light jazz, exotica and Latin influences.  There is calm. It could be the three A.M. album you have been waiting for.  I will be writing reviews on each for my website.  I don't know if you need to read them, but I know I need to write them.

The upside to this whole connection is that not only do I have someone with whom I can share the music of Nick Holmes (I and my few Holmes' buddies revel in the companionship of his music), I have someone new who musically stands on the same level to listen to.  This is a good thing.  All because of Soulful Crooner.  I tell you, if I could only help some of the musicians out there find an audience and help an audience find the music, this would be the best job in the world.

This may seem like an afterthought, but here is what I do know about Cullman.  He played in a band known as OK Savant with Vernon Reid (Living Colour) in '87 and '88.  Reid, in fact, is quoted in Cullman's bio, writing "Brian Cullman is that rarest of singer-song-writer-instrumentalist-composers -an artist whose intelligence doesn't overwhelm his humanity; an artist whose sensitivity doesn't  undercut the fierce mind at work. Cullman knows the star stuff that we're made of; our nobility, and our treachery, the way we deceive ourselves -- how our greatest loves go unrequited, the funny way our tears turn into laughter -- and back again."  I print this because of my admiration of Reid's work as a musician.  That is high praise, indeed.

And should you want to know about Cullman's musical past, here is what he has to say--- again, from his bio:   “When I was 15, I met Lillian Roxon, author of The Rock Encyclopedia, and decided to ask if my songs were any good.  She said I should play them for her friend Danny Fields. So she dragged me & my crummy guitar down to his house in Chelsea. Danny was the house hippie at Elektra Records, he'd signed The Stooges & The MC5, and he knew everyone. We walked in, and it was dark, there were candles everywhere. Edie Sedgwick, Danny’s roommate, was in the corner, in her bra & panties, cutting out pictures from Vogue Magazine. Jim Morrison was passed out drunk on the couch. Nico, I was told, was in the bedroom, hiding from Morrison. The phone kept ringing. Once it was Leonard Cohen, looking for Nico. Danny told him to go away. For all I knew, the Beatles were in the kitchen, fixing a snack. That was my introduction to the music business.”  Read the full bio here.

Nick Holmes' Soulful Crooner available on CD from cdBaby and Amazon.

Brian Cullman's All Fires the Fire available from Amazon.

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