Heath Cullen Springtime in the Heart Five By Nine Recordings Grown Up Songs From the Bottom Left Corner of Rarefied Record Collections
We pride ourselves in trying to get our reviews out as near to the release date as humanly possible but sometimes that’s not possible for a variety of reasons; and in this case the album will be having it’s first birthday on the day this review goes out; but that also coincides with its European release ….. the wacky world of Rock and Roll, huh? After all these years, I’m still a sucker for a great album cover; and this would certainly have caught my attention in a record shop ……. with a wonderful Mono photo of Australian singer-songwriter, Heath Cullen looking like a Mick Jones/Nick Cave/Tom Waits hybrid; and thankfully the music therein certainly matches the artwork. The opening track, Things Are Always Looking Up has a sort of mellow Native American drum beat to it; and when you hear the opening verse: “It’s a miracle this world it grew up right out of the ground we are seven billion monkeys burning it all down” you know you’re not in the presence of a Eurovision winner! This is the dark singer-songwriter territory that inhabits the bottom left hand corner of rarified record collections; the ones that aren’t for the feint hearted. Matched to Joe Henry’s pearlescent production and a group of highly respected session players, Cullen’s worn and weary vocals are the perfect combination for his enigmatic and thoughtful songs from very left of centre field. For someone I’ve never heard of before; Cullen’s songwriting is quite exceptional and at times thought provoking as he prods the listener with a sharp stick on the title track, Springtime in The Heart as well as the bewitching The Last Match which describes a relationship from the ‘last chance saloon’ in a magic and tragic manner. Between them, Cullen and Henry have conjured up a really, really special collection of songs here; somehow mixing Jazz and Country melodies to come out with songs as achingly beautiful as Cowboy Truths (for Sam Shephard) and Home too. For my favourite Song I’ve been drawn to Cullen’s blood raw rendition of T Bone Burnett’s Kill Switch, which leaves us on a haunting note from Day #1, but the more I play the album track #2 The Song Always Remembers has grown and grown on my conscious and sub-conscious. It’s a song of love; but in the mode that we expect from Waits or Cohen; and then some ……. but to some degree that sums up the whole album; so that’s where I’m stopping in my quest …. The Song Always Remembers. Music doesn’t get much better than this.
If you like your music slightly left of centre, dark and brooding, grown up and thought provoking then this is the record for you.
BTW Just when I thought I couldn’t love him any more; on Heath Cullen’s website homepage he explains why you will never find his music on Spotify. God bless you kidda.
USA Release 17th April 2020 Europe Release 20th April 2021
Catherine Britt Home Truths Beverley Hillbilly Records
Heartbreakers, Tearjerkers and Plenty of Good Ole Fashioned Deluxe Country.
The first night I listened to this album I skimmed through the accompanying Press Release and when I saw ‘first release’ obviously presumed that this was a debut album; and was mightily impressed by every aspect; from songs through melody, and of course Catherine’s magnificently expressive voice. Then two days later I read it more closely ….. DOH! Without going into too much detail; she released her first record in 1999 aged 14 in her native Newcastle; Australia and was eventually ‘discovered’ by Elton John three years later, which necesitated a move across the world to Nashville at 17 as she was given a contract with RCA when they were in their pomp. Subsequently she has won more Awards than Manchester United and played the Opry, while releasing a total of 7 previous albums before this little beauty on her own label. The music! Tell me about the music! Okay…. okay! With nothing to compare or contrast with, opening track I Am a Country Song is the type of Old School Classic Country that ‘they’ say isn’t made any more; but ‘they’ don’t look hard enough, do they? It’s everything; and more you’d expect from a Classy song of that title; a tearjerker, a look back and best of all it’s a good ole Country Love Song; and does music get any better than that? What follows is more or less in that vein; with even more tearjerkers with Catherine squeezing every ounce of pathos out of Hard To Love, the divine Mother and of course the punchy title track itself; Home Truths which will be when the mobile phones get lit up when she’s in concert; and best of all it all sounds like they are done with raw honesty. There was a time when I might have sneered at the likes of Country Fan; a duet with Lee Kernaghan and Fav’rit Song; but the older I get and the more I understand …… I bloody love both and if ever I get see Catherine ‘live’ I will be hollerin’ along with the rest of them. I like to think that after all these years I can put myself into the ‘target demographic’ when I listen to new albums; and today that’s not been easy when you have songs aimed at Young Mothers …… Gonna Be a Mumma , with it’s opening gambit: “Well I cook and I clean Put on the washing machine Make a coffee, drink it cold Hang the whites; they’re dorks to fold Put the dog in the yard Will today be just as hard as yesterday? Hey! Hey!” That sure ain’t aimed at me; but I can imagine my daughter in laws (and wife) thinking ‘someone gets me at last!’ More than just about any other genre Classic Country mines emotional gold better than any other; and CatherineBritt sure can build the tension better than most on the duet with Jim Lauderdale; Hard to Love, Original Sin and the world weary wisdom of New Dawn too; which sit side by side and are sure fire Country Heartbreakers in the Loretta and Reba mould and more recently by Ashley Monroe and Miranda Lambert; but Hell; Catherine Birt can match them all tear for tear. In one way or another everything here will be a ‘crowd pleaser’ in one way or another; but the self-depreciating biographical Me is an absolute highlight and delight too ……. perfect for Country Radio everywhere btw. One of my Favourite Tracks Make a Diamond reads like it’s a similar story; but it’s actually a whole lot darker and will appeal to many of us who have lived similar paths; albeit not as Country Music Stars. The other; and most likely my Favourite Song here is the finale; Long Way Round, yet another Country Heartbreaker, but one that somehow caught me unawares one evening and made me repeat it three or four times; which I’m sure will happen in many homes where this album will eventually reside. A cursory look at Catherine Britt’s biography shows you that for every ‘up’ in her life she’s had her fair share of ‘downs’ too; and she’s a fighter to come out the other side smiling; which all helps make her the Real Deal when writing and singing; which is something of a rarity around these parts.