“Winter Clothes” is the new summer record from Brian Cullman. It is exuberantly sad. Wonderfully heartrending. If you turn the world upside down, it is summer somewhere, but you’re stuck wearing winter clothes. Brian Cullman. This could be his best record ever, and the production scintillates.The lyrics do something else. This, unexpected, left me undone.
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– Paul Opperman
At once raucous and tender, Winter Clothes is Brian Cullman’s most fully realized album to date, one with nothing to prove, just the easy camaraderie of first-rate musicians playing together, the snap crackle pop of the rhythm, and the smoky beauty of the songs. It was released on September 11 by noted New Music label, Sunnyside Records.
This is Cullman’s first fully cooperative album with the late great Jimi Zhivago, his longtime friend and collaborator. Many of the songs were assembled during writing sessions where the two of them played ideas off one another, working through melodies and rhythms until the pieces were fully in sync.
Tragically, Zhivago – aka James Daley – had been fighting prostate cancer and had to be hospitalized before the album was over, in the midst of cutting the final song for the album. Jimi had a bad reaction to a drug prescribed him. Brian visited him daily with the day’s output and shared ideas and plans with him every day, hopeful his friend would recover. But the reaction resulted in kidney failure, and Jimi died after a short time. Cullman was devastated. He could not face the music they had been making for more than a year. He shelved the project.
He wrote a poignant, beautiul tribute to his friend for Ragazine,
Jimi Zhivago in Memoriam. When he was able, he returned to the studio and completed the final song.
The album was mostly recorded live at Forrest Sound in Long Island City with the core lineup of Brian (guitars, vocals); Jimi (electric & acoustic guitars, organ, mandolin); Byron Isaacs (bass, backing vocals and occasional drums) and Glenn Patscha (keyboards and backing vocals.)
Later sessions filled out the sound, adding Chris Bruce (Me’shell Ndegeocello, T Bone Burnett) on guitars; Christopher Heinz on drums; Tony Leone (Chris Robinson Brotherhood) on percussion; and
the great Syd Straw on back-up vocals with MaryAsque Fendley (Basque).As always, engineer Hector Castillo (Phillip Glass, David Bowie) was there to oversee the recording and to mix.
Since recording his last album, The Opposite of Time, Cullman has been back and forth to Lisbon, recording and performing as part of Rua Das Pretas, a loose and ever-shifting group of Brazilian, Portuguese and international musicians bringing fado & bossa into the future, as well as into the nearest tavern.
Brian also composed music for the upcoming film The Bay of Silence, starring Brian Cox & Claes Bang.
He also writes regularly for The Paris Review, contributing thoughtful essays on many subjects, including several on great songwriters and
artists, including Cole Porter and Dr. John.
All of these elements, the travel and the homecoming, the poetry of
the streets, and the thunder in the distance found their way into these songs and sound.
“I’ve been lucky in having wonderful collaborators,” said Cullman. “Years ago, I recorded with Mark Knopfler alongside Rod Argent, Colin Blunstone and Chris White of The Zombies in London; I worked with Robert Quine at Noise New York; with Vernon Reid and the lovely Sara Lee in my old band OK Savant.
“But this was probably my deepest recording experience. You usually just gather in a dark and lonely studio, mumble a few words, light a few candles and hope that the spirits will show up. This time they did.”
“Wrong Birthday” is loose and sloppy in the best possible way, sounding like an early Stones out-take.
No more candles on your cake
Your shiny car has got no brakes
You’re at the wrong birthday
“Killing The Dead” explores the idea posited by Game of Thrones that the dead don’t stay dead. Zhivago plays a ringing Buddy Holly groove the way Pete Townshend might and MaryAsque swoops in at the coda with sugar hiccups that would make The Cocteau Twins proud.
Time passes slowly
When time’s at an end
The hands on the clock start to bend
“Someday Miss You” is a midnight blues about changing your ways, changing your life, an intimate conversation between Brian and Jimi’s guitars, with Byron’s acoustic bass anchoring the sound, standing in the doorway, checking ID’s.
Take my hand like I’m a stranger
Lead me out of present danger
Take my hand like I’m a stranger
Cause if I fall one more time
You’ll know I’m gone
“Down Down Down” has a swampy groove straight out of early Little Feat or The Meters’ work with Lee Dorsey.
These winter clothes
Are torn & caked with blood
And if I could
I surely would
Get out of them for good.
The breadth of sounds and honesty of voice on Winter Clothes has resulted in an unexpectedly deep and powerful listen.
If you turn the world upside down, it’s sure to be winter somewhere.